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WhatsApp not giving Indian users same option as Europeans, govt tells court

WhatsApp not giving Indian users same option as Europeans

WhatsApp is not treating Indian users on the same footing as its European users over the mandatory sharing of their data with Facebook companies so the government is looking into the issue as it is a cause for concern , the Central government informed the Delhi High Court on Monday.

"Insofar the government is concerned, while the privacy policy offered by WhatsApp to its European users specifically prohibits use of any information to be shared with Facebook companies, this clause is not found in the privacy policy offered to Indian citizens who form a very substantial part of WhatsApp's user base.

During the hearing, ASG Sharma told the court that by not giving Indian users the option to opt out of sharing their data with other companies of Facebook, WhatsApp prima facie appears to be treating users with an "all or nothing approach".

"This differential treatment is certainly a cause of concern for the government. It is also a matter of concern for the government that Indian users are being unilaterally subjected to the changes in the privacy policy," Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma told the court.

ASG Sharma said the government was already looking into the issue and has sent a communication to WhatsApp seeking certain information. The submission was made at a hearing on a petition filed by a private lawyer against the new privacy policy of WhatsApp which is owned by Mark Zuckerberg-led Facebook.

The central government told the high court that it was also a matter of concern that Indian users were being "unilaterally" subjected to the change in privacy policy by the instant messaging platform.

At the beginning of the hearing, the court reiterated what it had said on January 18 that WhatsApp was a private app and it was optional whether to download it or not. "It is not mandatory to download it. Every other app has similar terms and conditions regarding sharing of user information with others," the court said and asked why the petitioner was challenging the policy of WhatsApp.

The court also observed that the Personal Data Protection Bill was being considered by Parliament and the government was looking into issues raised in the plea.

The ASG told the court that though the issue was between two private individuals — WhatsApp and its users — the scope and expanse of WhatsApp "make it a germane ground that reasonable and cogent policies are put in place which is being done by the Personal Data Protection Bill and discussions are very much on."

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented WhatsApp, told the court that the communication has been received and will be responded to.

The court has now listed the matter for hearing on March 1.