Sunday, September 25, 2016

Meet the students whose plea led to HC direction to WhatsApp Privacy Policy.

After internet messaging service WhatsApp announced changes to its privacy policy in August, 19-year-old engineering student Karmanya Singh Sareen, who was at home for a break before the start of his second year of college, decided to spend a few minutes reading through the policy instead of simply clicking ‘accept’ to the new policy.

Son of two senior lawyers, Sareen says the change from the “pro-privacy” policy used by WhatsApp since its inception raised several flags about data sharing and privacy concerns.

He then discussed the issue with his childhood friend Shreya Sethi, a 22-year old law student and the daughter of a senior lawyer, and realised that there was a lot of discussion online about the changes in the app’s privacy policy. “We saw that there were a lot of articles and blogs about the policy but no one was actually doing anything about it. So we started researching,” says Sareen, who is the son of Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh and Senior advocate Pratibha M Singh. Shreya is the daughter of senior advocate Sandeep Sethi.

Both senior advocates represented the petitioners before the Delhi High Court. The two students spent a day analysing the new privacy policy and created comparative charts between the old and the new policies before approaching Senior advocate Pratibha Singh for advice. With the research in place, the students also created a rough draft of the PIL, which Singh went through.

The PIL was filed before the High Court on August 29.

“We looked at the new privacy policy and found there were huge loopholes in it. Most people don’t even read the entire policy before clicking the accept button. I thought that as a law student I should take up the issue,” says Sethi.

A final year student at the Amity Law school (IP University), Sethi says the first thing that raised alarms for her was the clause regarding retention of data and use by Facebook and group companies.

“The old policy explicitly mentioned a heading called ‘Data we do not collect’ and said that we don’t collect content of messages. The new policy however as a heading called ‘data we collect’ and mentions content. It also says they retain popular photos for a longer time but what is ‘popular’ and what is a ‘longer time’ is not defined anywhere. The company can use data as they see fit,” says Sethi.

Sareen also says the new policy was a “breach of trust” for the users who had “got on the app on its pro privacy platform”. With the HC directing WhatsApp to delete all data collected prior to September 25, when the new privacy policy is set to come into effect, the petitioners say that the judgment is a “right step” towards protecting data privacy.

Both students say they have stopped using WhatsApp. The duo is also considering filing another plea on data sharing between WhatsApp and other Facebook group companies before the Supreme Court.

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