WhatsApp case reveals India's need for law to protect data privacy

India needs new data privacy laws, experts say, as a court case with WhatsApp has brought the issue into sharp focus.

WhatsApp last month revised its privacy policy to allow the Facebook-owned messaging app to share data with Facebook and permit targeted adverts.

Two students filed a public litigation in the Delhi High Court to try to get the policy reversed. The court ruled that because the policy would only come into effect on September 25, all data before that should be deleted. It also resulted in the court asking India’s telecom regulator, Trai, to look at bringing WhatsApp and other messaging services under the statutory regulatory framework. But the students did not succeed in winning the case to get the WhatsApp policy reversed.

“In addition to laws for data privacy and security, what is required to be done on priority is to educate the end user of the implication of such usage,” said Srividya Kannan, the founder and director at Avaali Solutions, based in Bangalore.

India is a key market for Facebook and WhatsApp given the rapid growth of smartphone and internet use. WhatsApp in its defence has said that users are under no obligation to use the app.

The number of internet users in India is estimated to have reached 402 million by the end of last year, meaning that India has passed the United States with the second-largest number of internet users in the world. Only China is ahead, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India and the research group IMRB International.

“Data privacy is an intrinsic risk to the usage of any of the social media applications,” says Ms Kannan. “User data including perhaps the phone number could be compromised for commercial marketing, advertising. For enterprises, while social media is a great means of customer service, this is a double-edged sword and must be designed to prevent leakage of business sensitive information.”


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