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SC directs WhatsApp to give wide publicity to its 2021 undertaking to Centre on privacy policy

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New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed WhatsApp to give wide publicity in the media that users aren’t bound to accept its 2021 privacy policy and also WhatsApp’s functionality would not be affected till the new data protection bill comes into effect.

In May 2021, WhatsApp, in a response to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s letter, had assured that the messaging service will not limit functionality for its users if they do not accept the new privacy policy update.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice K.M. Joseph observed that giving wide publicity to the WhatsApp undertaking would benefit those who have not agreed to the terms of its 2021 privacy policy. The top court asked WhatsApp to give advertisements in five newspapers regarding its undertaking given to the government.

The bench – also comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy, and C T Ravikumar – said: “We further direct that WhatsApp will give publicity to this aspect to the customers of WhatsApp in five national newspapers on two occasions.”

The bench said it has recorded the stand taken in the response to the government and “we record the submission of the senior counsel for WhatsApp that they will abide by the terms of the letter till next date of hearing”.

The apex court noted that it Centre’s counsel has brought to its notice that a digital personal data protection bill 2022 is about to be placed before the Parliament, and it is there contention that bill would cover most of the aspects which are subject matter of petitions before this court and the matter may be taken up at a later stage. This request was echoed by WhatsApp counsel too.

However, the petitioners’ counsel vehemently contested this aspect and submitted that law should not come in the way of addressing issues raised in the petitions before the apex court. The petitioners’ counsel said the stand by WhatsApp for its customers in Europe stands in stark contrast with its stand taken here, and urged the court to hear the matter. The petitioners’ counsel stressed that the privacy policy should have an option to opt out from data sharing.

After hearing day-long arguments, the apex court passed an interim direction in a batch of petitions challenging the privacy policy of WhatsApp and scheduled the matter for further hearing on April 11.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal represented WhatsApp and senior advocate Arvind Datar represented Meta. Senior advocates Shyam Divan and K.V. Viswanathan represented the petitioners’ along with other counsel.

The top court was hearing petitions, which included a plea filed by two students, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, against the contract entered into between WhatsApp and its parent Facebook to provide access to calls, photographs, texts, videos, and documents shared by users. The petitioners claimed it is a violation of their privacy and free speech.

–IANS

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