The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to reply to a petition challenging the platform’s new privacy policy, reported Bar and Bench.

On January 4, WhatsApp had announced changes to its privacy policy. Questions were raised about how the company was forcing users to agree to share their information with Facebook – which owns the cross-messaging platform – if they want to keep using the service.

A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh sent a notice to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and WhatsApp asking for their position on the plea. The court asked the authorities to reply by March.

The petitioners, Seema Singh and Meghan Singh, argued that the new privacy policy indicated there were “fissures” in Indian data protection and privacy laws, reported PTI. It also asked for formulation of guidelines, rules and regulation for safeguarding the privacy of citizens.

“Social media in recent years has been used by billions of people around the world and millions of Indians today are dependent on WhatsApp,” the plea said, according to Hindustan Times. “Therefore information which is generally personal is shared at an enormous level. This information is susceptible to being misused if the social media giant decides to either sell or exploit the information, sensitive to the users, to any third party.”

The matter will be taken up again on March 19.

New WhatsApp policies

On January 16, WhatsApp had announced that it would delay the planned privacy update, as the messaging service found itself in the throes of widespread backlash about the safety of user data. WhatsApp said it would push back the changes to May 15 from February 8, and would “do lot more to clear up the misinformation” about the app.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had also told WhatsApp Chief Executive Officer Will Cathcart that the company must reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice and data security.

While concerns about data privacy with respect to WhatsApp are not new, the new WhatsApp privacy policy released on January 4, sparked a mass exodus towards other messenger platforms such as Signal and Telegram.

The policy makes it clear that WhatsApp collects expansive meta data from users’ phones, including internet protocol addresses and phone number area codes to estimate users’ geographical location. More significantly, the privacy policy confirms that WhatsApp will allow Facebook access to messages that users share with businesses on the messenger app, which will enable Facebook to further influence user behaviour through targeted advertising.

WhatsApp had issued two clarifications to assuage privacy concerns of users. On January 10, the messaging platform said that its latest update describes business communication and does not change its data-sharing practices with Facebook. Again on January 15, it said that the new policy does not affect the privacy of users’ messages with their friends and family.