Owned by Facebook, WhatsApp introduced a payment system in November last year, in partnership with India's National Payment Commission

New Delhi: WhatsApp is treating Indian users differently from Europeans over opting out of its new privacy policy which is a matter of concern for the government and it is looking into the issue, the Centre informed the Delhi High Court on Monday.

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.

The submissions were made before Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma during hearing of a petition by a lawyer against the new privacy policy of WhatsApp which is owned by Facebook.

At the start 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.

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”.

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

“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,” the ASG told the court.

“This leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain which may infringe on their interests in information privacy and information security,” he further said.

He also 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”.

Sharma said the government was already looking into the issue and has sent a communication to WhatsApp seeking certain information.

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

The court, thereafter, listed the matter for hearing on March 1.

The petition, by a lawyer, has contended that the updated privacy policy violates users right to privacy under the Constitution.

The plea has claimed that the new privacy policy of WhatsApp allows full access into a user’s online activity without there being any supervision by the government.

Under the new policy, users can either accept it or exit the app, but they cannot opt not to share their data with other Facebook-owned or third party apps.

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