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The Underworlds Of Whatsapp

Vivek Narayan Sharma
13 Jan 2021 5:23 AM GMT
Whatsapp Chats admissible in evidence, arnab goswami chats
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Recently the most used mobile commodity Whatsapp sprang its wings in Non-European countries and introduced a new oxymoronic privacy policy for its Non-European users (includes Indian Users). Though termed as privacy policy, the enigma behind is the fact that it is a policy to publicise, exhibit and sell the privacy of users. "Killing you softly…" is the essence of whatsapp's new policy.

While the relevant extracts of the new privacy policy updated on January 4th, 2021 for anyone living outside European region can be found here; for readers benefit, I would analyse some of the conundrums of this whatsapp policy scheduled to take effect from 8th February, 2021.

"We are one of the Facebook Companies", that's what it claims in the user interface where there is an option to accept or deny the terms. Of course, it is a facebook company but why is this statement placed at the top of the table. It is in fact a psychological tactic to persuade the user to agree to the new privacy policy without reading or grasping the carefully crafted contract which begins with WhatsApp defined as Facebook Companies.

There is no need to search for hidden threats, because the whole privacy policy clearly mentions that users data, would be used for profiling to target them with agenda based consumerism. Just look at the few excerpts

Then the term, "Information We Collect" would actually mean:

  • WhatsApp must receive or collect some information to operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services, including when you install, access, or use our Services.
  • The types of information we receive and collect depend on how you use our Services.
  • Our Services have optional features which, if used by you, require us to collect additional information to provide such features. You will be notified of such collection, as appropriate.

Look at the 'You will be notified of such collection, as appropriate' section. Most of such agreements are taken in the garb of default settings or acceptance of users who do not understand the consequences. Crime is a crime, users' acceptance is also immaterial if they do not understand the consequences of their acceptance.

For example, now since whatsapp is declared as one of Facebook Companies, its data also belongs to facebook companies. Even deletion of WhatsApp account wouldn't save users from getting profiled since the data would all be banked in facebook Companies repository. Look at how boldly they use the "Automatically collected information" phrase here

  • Usage And Log Information. We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions),

Just imagine, any service, transaction, quantum of transaction, who is using which service, portal at what times, taste of consumer, everything would be profiled and used. Yes you have agreed to it by clicking the AGREE button or you may choose to delete your WhatsApp account but sorry, it might be already too late to do that, who knows!

  • Device And Connection Information. We collect device and connection-specific information when you install, access, or use our Services. This includes information such as hardware model, operating system information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers

All this information profiling would give a huge hand to FACEBOOK companies to establish and destroy any mobile phone/service provider company they want! In a way, its extreme power.

  • Location Information. We collect and use precise location information from your device with your permission when you choose to use location-related features, like when you decide to share your location with your contacts or view locations nearby or locations others have shared with you.

Imagine, your phone following you like a stalker, collecting your location details, where you checked in, what you spent your money on, who you interacted with, their location, your location details all and much more getting tracked and recorded by unknown parties to be used later.

The term "How Whatsapp Uses the Information" would mean:

  • We use information we have (subject to choices you make and applicable law)-

Unfortunately, lot of choices we make are the default settings which we don't even bother to review. By the way, do they plan to comply local laws? These laws are probably not even made to provide the protection that we may all need.

  • Communications About Our Services And The Facebook Companies. We use information we have to communicate with you about our Services and let you know about our terms, policies, and other important updates. We may provide you marketing for our Services and those of the Facebook Companies.

Your private chats may be used to market products to you.

  • No Third-Party Banner Ads. We still do not allow third-party banner ads on our Services. We have no intention to introduce them, but if we ever do, we will update this Privacy Policy.

They leave it open, despite becoming their commodity, they may not stop from over encashing their users.

  • Third-Party Services. When you or others use third-party services or other Facebook Company Products that are integrated with our Services, those third-party services may receive information about what you or others share with them.

The users data may even be compromised to third parties beyond Facebook companies, get ready to be exposed in an unimaginable way.

Similarly their "How Whatsapp Works With Other Facebook Companies ?" declares total data exchange between Whatsapp and other facebook companies in the name of personalizing features and content, helping you complete purchases and transactions, and showing relevant offers and ads across the Facebook Company Products

The Constitution Bench of Supreme Court in Puttaswamy judgment held that Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. Now the question arises, "Would such whatsapp privacy policy be violative of the fundamental rights of citizens in India, more particularly in the situation, when whatsapp is a voluntary platform of communication?"

To analyse this, I must state that Whatsapp is an intermediary under Section 2(1)(w) of Information Technology Act. Since Whatsapp is a communication platform widely used in India, therefore it is assumed to be providing public service. The private enterprise character of whatsapp can be proved to have changed into public enterprise character, which can't violate citizens' right to privacy. Therefore, Whatsapp sharing data with Facebook etc. will not only compromise privacy of citizens, but could also be a security threat to vast networks of individual or groups of their properties, lives, reputation, dignity and many more tangible and non-tangible assets. Since Government of India has permitted Whatsapp to operate in India, it must direct whatsapp to maintain the privacy of citizens and not share data with Facebook etc.

To buttress my analysis, I must add that the Government notified the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011. The Rules deal with protection of "Sensitive personal data or information of a person", which includes such personal information which consists of information relating to:-

  • Passwords;
  • Financial information such as bank account or credit card or debit card or other payment instrument details;
  • Physical, physiological and mental health condition;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Medical records and history;
  • Biometric information.

Going through the WhatsApp new privacy policy, all the above would be compromised. Once the data travels to other servers of so called Facebook companies, even deleting the WhatsApp account would be useless.

Also under Section 72A of the Information Technology Act, disclosure of information, knowingly and intentionally, without the consent of the person concerned and in breach of the lawful contract has been also made punishable with imprisonment for a term extending three years and fine extending to Rs. 5,00,000.

Here with whatApp default settings and uninformed consequences of the Privacy Policy, nearly all Indian users would be profiled and used as products / data by the FACEBOOK COMPANIES, which would be totally violative of Right to Privacy and other IT laws. The same could even endanger secret operations during critical times. We would always know that privacy information of users is compromised, but we would never know who all have benefitted from such vast network of information. And these acts of omissions and commissions would be done to benefit the underworlds of whatsapp.

Views are personal.

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