The Centre on Thursday urged the Delhi High Court to issue interim directions to WhatsApp to desist from pushing notifications related to its updated privacy policy to its existing users.

In an additional affidavit, the Centre told a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh that WhatsApp’s “game-plan” is to transfer the entire existing user-base committed to its updated 2021 privacy policy before Parliament passes the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill.

The Centre’s fresh affidavit supports averments in a bunch of pleas, especially a PIL moved by Chaitanya Rohilla, a lawyer, in January, challenging WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy that gives user the choice of either accepting it or exiting the App, but not for not sharing their data with other Facebook-owned or third party apps. The Centre went a step further and asked the High Court to restrain WhatsApp.

“…It is submitted that the Respondent No.2 (WhatsApp) has unleashed its digital prowess onto the unsuspecting existing users and would like to force them to accept the updated 2021 privacy policy by flashing such notifications at regular intervals. The game plan is very clear, i.e., to transfer the entire existing user base committed to updated 2021 privacy policy before the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill becomes the law,” the Centre told the HC.

‘Privacy, our priority’

Meanwhile, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: “We reiterate that we have already responded to the Government of India and assured them that the privacy of users remains our highest priority. As a reminder, the recent update does not change the privacy of people’s personal messages. Its purpose is to provide additional information about how people can interact with businesses if they choose to do so.

“We will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks. Instead, we will continue to remind users from time to time about the update as well as when people choose to use relevant optional features, like communicating with a business that is receiving support from Facebook. We will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming PDP law comes into effect.”

‘Anti-user practices’

The Centre maintained that WhatsApp is indulging in “anti-user” practices. “…WhatsApp is indulging in anti-user practices by obtaining trick consent from the users for its updated privacy policy. It is submitted that millions of WhatsApp’s existing users, those who have not accepted the updated 2021 privacy policy, are being bombarded with notifications on an everyday basis,” said the Centre.

The Centre quoted a Competition Commission of India ruling that held that prima facie , WhatsApp had contravened the law through its “exploitative and exclusionary conduct in the garb of policy update” and directed the Director-General of the CCI to conduct an investigation.

“It is submitted that the current notifications as being pushed by the Respondent No.2 (WhatsApp) on its users whether existing or new is against the grain of prima facie opinion of the Competition Commission of India’s order dated March 24, 2021,” said the Centre urging the High Court to issue directions to WhatsApp to not just desist from “push” notifications but also place on record the number of times such notifications are being pushed on the users daily.