Indian Students Score a Partial Win in Facebook Privacy Dispute

Two Indian students have in India achieved what many have tried and failed in the United States of America. Two students scored a partial victory over Facebook in a closely watched legal battle over privacy.

Readers may remember that Facebook-owned WhatsApp had revised its privacy policy last month. The new policy allows WhatsApp to share its users’ data with owner Facebook. The data will allow Facebook to target ads and messages from businesses, laying the groundwork for the free messaging service to begin making money. Students Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, 19 and 22 respectively, then filed a public-interest litigation — akin to a class action — seeking to block those changes. They wanted a rollback of those updates, in a lawsuit that’s attracted attention as a test case for how legal authorities around the world may respond.

Students Karmanya Singh Sareen, 19 and Shreya Sethi, 22 filed a public-interest litigation in India to block WhatsApp from sharing user data with its parent. Public-interest litigation or PIL as it’s popularly called is equivalent to a Class Action Suit filed in the US. In the PIL the two students had asked the Judge to order a complete rollback of those updates. During the hearing, lawyers appearing for WhatsApp said it doesn’t intend to share content with Facebook except user names and phone numbers.

Though the two students could fully get what they wanted, the Delhi High Court on Friday ruled that WhatsApp has to delete all data on users who choose to stop using the service before Sept. 25, when the new policy takes effect. The judge also ruled that WhatsApp may share only that data which is collected after 25th September 2016.

However, going forward, WhatsApp is free to share information on users who haven’t opted out. The court also asked India’s government to consider if it was feasible to craft regulations to oversee WhatsApp and other messaging apps, though it didn’t specify what form they could take.

The ruling marks a great victory for privacy activists who have been seeking to puncture Facebook’s growing privacy related issues. Facebook has a lot of stake in the ruling as it has close to 150 million users, its biggest base outside the U.S. Research firm eMarketer said India would soon have the world’s largest Facebook population. WhatsApp alone has over 70 million users in India, according to a SimilarWeb report in May.

The Indian challenge follows similar hurdles around the world, with the European Union and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission examining whether users have been wronged and a German consumer group threatening to sue the company.

Facebook hasn’t yet commented on the ruling.

If you are a WhatsApp user and is worried about WhatsApp sharing your data/details with its parent, Facebook, you are free to delete the App and safeguard your privacy. In case you don’t delete the App by 25th Sept. 2016, WhatsApp will be allowed to share your data/details with Facebook from that date.