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Exclusive: WhatsApp Strikes Back On Privacy Criticism; Alleges Zomato, Ola, BigBasket Collect Same Or More Data

Exclusive: WhatsApp Strikes Back On Privacy Criticism; Alleges Zomato, Ola, BigBasket Collect Same Or More Data

Facebook-owned messaging platform says its privacy policy is similar to that of other tech companies

WhatsApp’s affidavit names startups like Zomato, Ola, Koo, BigBasket, Truecaller, government’s Covid tracker app Aarogya Setu, and US tech majors as examples

It said that if the 2021 update is blocked by the court, it would not only undermine users’ freedom to contract with a private part, but also disrupt many tech companies in the country

In response to a petition filed against WhatsApp’s privacy policy update in the Delhi High Court last week, the Facebook-owned messaging company has said that other tech companies and apps have similar policies and collect more data in many instances.

WhatsApp’s affidavit, a copy of which has been reviewed by Inc42, cites privacy policies of internet companies — Zomato, Ola, Koo, BigBasket, Truecaller as well as government’s contact tracing app Aarogya Setu, and US tech majors Microsoft, Google, Zoom as examples to make its point. It also mentions Republic World, which is the digital arm of news broadcasting company Republic TV.

“A review of the privacy policies of many internet-based applications and websites confirms that such policies include provisions describing the information they may collect that are similar to – and in many instances much broader than – those in the 2021 Update,” WhatsApp wrote in its affidavit.

WhatsApp claims that if its 2021 update is blocked by the court, it would not only undermine users’ freedom to contract with a private party, but also disrupt other tech companies in the country such as those facilitating the delivery of groceries, making doctors’ appointments, etc, which provides a wide variety of services to users on the basis of similar policies.

This affidavit was in response to a petition filed by advocate and educationist Harsha Gupta on May 5, through advocates Vivek Sood and Dhruv Gupta, challenged WhatsApp’s general terms of services as well as WhatsApp Business’ terms of services as violative of the provisions of the IT Act and the right to informational privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Interestingly, two days later, the messaging platform seemed to have blinked as it said it will not delete accounts of users who do not accept its controversial privacy policy by the May 15 deadline. It said a “majority of users who have received the new terms of service have accepted them”.

“No accounts will be deleted on May 15 because of this update and no one in India will lose functionality of WhatsApp either. We will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks,” a spokesperson said.

WhatsApp is caught in a slew of court cases pertaining to its alleged antitrust practices, the legality of its UPI payments service and the new privacy policy.

While the Competition Commission of India has ordered a probe into WhatsApp on antitrust issues, the Atmanirbhar Digital India Foundation (ADIF) filed a petition in the Supreme Court in April saying WhatsApp Pay is illegal and its privacy policy discriminates against Indians.

Another petition by Rajya Sabha MP Binoy Viswam filed last year in the apex court contends that big tech companies like Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Google Pay and Amazon Pay should be asked to not send payments data to servers outside India. However, an RBI directive on data localisation says that payments data can go out of the country for a period of 24 hours after the transactions for processing purposes but should be erased post that.

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