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SC hears appeals for WhatsApp, Facebook users' protection

The court allowed the parties to argue the case as larger constitutional issues were involved

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 


A five-judge constitution bench of the on Monday began hearing appeals seeking guidelines to protect the users of WhatsApp, and other service providers from sharing data with third parties and on the right to confidentiality. According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, which opened the arguments, currently, there is no such protection and the court should lay down guidelines till there is a law to fill the vacuum.

The central government told the bench, presided over by judge Dipak Misra, that a law to protect data in all aspects is on the anvil. However, the court allowed the parties to argue the case as larger constitutional issues were involved.

The service providers told the court that all messages are encrypted end to end and according to their 2016 policy, the users of the messaging services can use the opt-out clause which would enable them to use the service but disable collection/retention/sharing arrangements.

Denying this, senior counsel for the Internet Freedom Foundation, K V Viswanathan, argued the business model of Facebook, which has taken over WhatsApp, is dependent on online advertising displayed on computers and phones. The data collected on the is used for selective marketing, enabling marketing companies to target the audience narrowly to increase revenue. 

Even if messages are encrypted, there are quite a few information about the users collected by like their photos, phone numbers, membership of a group, location, purchase behaviour, travel preferences, devices they use, health records and sexual attitudes. 

Counsel said several countries have passed data protection laws and prohibited companies from collecting profiles and data about the users. This was in accord with several international conventions to which India is a signatory. Therefore, till a law comes into force, the court should exercise its powers to set guidelines as it has done in several cases before, Viswanathan said.