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'User privacy remains highest priority': WhatsApp responds to Centre's 'trick consent' remark

WhatsApp clarified that it accords highest priority to the privacy of its users and that it will not confine its functionality for users not consenting to its new privacy policy, but will continue to send reminders about the update

twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | June 3, 2021 | Updated 18:41 IST
'User privacy remains highest priority': WhatsApp responds to Centre's 'trick consent' remark
WhatsApp's statement comes against the backdrop of an affidavit filed by the Centre in Delhi High Court (HC) on Thursday alleging that it is indulging in anti-user practices by obtaining 'trick consent' to its revised privacy policy

Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp on Thursday responded to the Centre's charge that the messaging app was hoodwinking its users to agree to its updated privacy policy.

The Facebook-owned messaging platform, in its defence, clarified that it accords highest priority to the privacy of its users. WhatsApp added that it will not confine its functionality for users not consenting to its new privacy policy, but will continue to send reminders about the update.

The messaging platform's statement comes against the backdrop of an affidavit filed by the Centre in Delhi High Court (HC) on Thursday, alleging that WhatsApp is indulging in anti-user practices by obtaining 'trick consent' to its revised privacy policy.

Also Read: WhatsApp indulging in anti-user practices, obtaining 'trick consent', alleges Centre

WhatsApp noted that its recent policy update does not change the privacy of people's personal messages, and it has already written to the government, seeking to assure the privacy of users remains its highest priority.

"We reiterate that we have already responded to the Government of India and assured them that the privacy of users remains our highest priority. As a reminder, the recent update does not change the privacy of people's personal messages. Its purpose is to provide additional information about how people can interact with businesses if they choose to do so," WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement soon after the Delhi HC adjourned hearing of petitions challenging the messaging app's updated privacy policy.

The spokesperson said the messaging platform will not limit the "functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks," adding that it will instead continue to "remind users from time to time about the update as well as when people choose to use relevant optional features, like communicating with a business that is receiving support from Facebook."

"We hope this approach reinforces the choice that all users have whether or not they want to interact with a business. We will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming PDP law comes into effect," WhatsApp's spokesperson concluded.

On Thursday, the Centre told the Delhi HC that the messaging platform was trying to "force" its users to consent to the new privacy policy before the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill becomes the law by bombarding them with notifications daily to obtain their consent.

Also Read: WhatsApp sues Indian govt, says new media rules mean end to privacy

Terming WhatsApp's bombarding of notifications on its customers as an "anti-user practice" for obtaining "trick consent", the central government urged the court to direct the messaging platform to desist from pushing notifications onto its existing users with regard to the new privacy policy.

The Centre's claim has been made in an additional affidavit filed in response to several pleas challenging WhatsApp's new privacy policy.

A raging debate had ensued earlier this year after WhatsApp said it will update its terms of service and privacy policy around how it processes user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the social media giant's products.

WhatsApp - which has 53 crore users in India as per the government data - had faced severe backlash over user concerns that data was being shared with parent company Facebook.

Interestingly, the new rules for social media companies have also come into effect from May 26 that mandate large platforms like Facebook and Twitter to undertake greater due diligence and make these digital platforms more accountable and responsible for the content hosted by them.

The rules also require social media intermediaries - providing services primarily in the nature of messaging - to enable identification of the "first originator" of the information that undermines the sovereignty of India, the security of the state, or public order. This could have major ramifications for players like Twitter and WhatsApp.

Also Read: WhatsApp appoints grievance officer in India amid 'privacy' battle with Centre

The new IT rules require significant social media intermediaries - those with other 50 lakh users - to appoint a grievance officer, nodal officer and a chief compliance officer. These personnel are required to be resident in India.

Under the new rules, social media companies will also have to take down flagged content within 36 hours and remove within 24 hours content that is flagged for nudity, pornography, etc. The Centre has said the new rules are designed to prevent abuse and misuse of platforms and offer users a robust forum for grievance redressal.

Non-compliance with the rules would result in these platforms losing their intermediary status, which provides them immunity from liabilities over any third-party data hosted by them. In other words, they could be liable for criminal action in case of complaints.

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