Most Indians think twice before approaching the courts. Processes are long and complicated, and resolutions can take forever.
That didn’t stop Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, aged 19 and 22 respectively, from going to the Delhi High Court when they felt that their rights were being infringed upon. And they’d planned to take on no ordinary opponent – they’d filed a public interest litigation against WhatsApp.
The two students thought this was an invasion of their privacy, and rightly so – WhatsApp had long maintained, even after its acquisition, that it wouldn’t share any user details with Facebook. WhatsApp had said that it planned to ask users for consent before rolling out the changes, and hence what it was doing was fair. But Singh and Sethi contended that the term “user consent” is meaningless in India as most aren’t equipped to comprehend the consequences of the policy changes. WhatsApp attracted a substantial user base through its assurance of complete privacy and its recent changes were a breach of trust, they said.
The courts heard their stand, and last 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. Also, it can only share data collected after that date. However, going forward, WhatsApp is free to share information on users who haven’t opted out.
That is sweet victory for the two students, who got a multinational tech giant to take their concerns seriously. Internet activism is fast becoming popular – ordinary Indians had launched the very successful Save Net Neutrality campaign earlier this year, and had prevented Facebook from rolling out its Free Basics program in India. And after this public interest litigation, companies should know that the ordinary Indian is now tech savvy and aware – and isn’t afraid to fight for his rights.