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WhatsApp tells Delhi HC it won’t enforce privacy policy until data protection bill


WhatsApp informed the Delhi High Court on Friday that it has put its privacy policy on hold until the Parliament passes the imminent Personal Data Protection Bill. It also said that if the final bill does not allow WhatsApp to have a separate policy for India, then the company will have to “take a call”. 

WhatsApp’s legal counsel Harish Salve on Friday also apprised a division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh that the platform will not limit the functionality of the app for users who haven’t accepted its latest privacy policy yet at least until the data protection bill comes into force. 

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was being deliberated upon by a Joint Parliamentary Committee which is expected to submit its report on the bill in the next session of Parliament. 

WhatsApp and Facebook had approached the Delhi High Court after the Competition Commission of India ordered an antitrust investigation into WhatsApp’s new privacy policy on May 24. However, a single judge bench had dismissed their petitions on April 22, following which they filed an appeal in front of the division bench. 

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, initially announced in January this year, has been the subject of a furore ever since it was announced. The new policy allows WhatsApp to share data between the messaging service and other products of the Facebook group, especially for communications with businesses, and this has become a sore point for privacy activists, users and the government alike. 

In an affidavit filed with the court last month, the government had accused WhatsApp of obtaining “trick consent” from users for accepting its privacy policy. 

“We replied to a [IT Ministry] notice saying that WhatsApp will not limit functionality for some time and continue to show users the updated version [of the app],” Salve said during the hearing. 

“We will maintain this approach until the data protection bill comes into force. We have voluntarily agreed to put the update on hold till then,” he added.

However, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, who was appearing for the CCI was not amused at WhatsApp’s submission. 

“They are not enforcing compliance. But the privacy policy is in place and WhatsApp is not giving it up. As long as the policy stands, competition law issues persist,” Lekhi told the court. 

When asked by the court why WhatsApp had a different privacy policy for users in India and Europe, Salve said that “If Parliament allows me to have a separate policy for India, I will have it. If it does not allow me, then bad luck. I will then have to take a call”. 

The court has listed the matter for July 30.

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