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Supreme Court to hear plea against WhatsApp’s policy of sharing user data with Facebook on January 17

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would take up the plea by two students contending that WhatsApp’s policy to share users’ data with parent company Facebook and others is a violation of their privacy and free speech on January 17, 2023 all the parties.


The five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Justice K M Joseph and comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Justice Aniruddha Bose, Justice Hrishikesh Roy, and Justice C T Ravikumar, has asked all the parties to complete the process of pleadings before December 15.

 
The Supreme Court was hearing the plea filed by two students, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, who have chgallenged the contract entered into between the two companies to provide access to calls, photographs, texts, videos, and documents shared by users is a violation of their privacy and free speech.

The division bench on August 25, dismissed the appeals of WhatsApp and Facebook Inc against a single judge’s order rejecting their challenge to the probe ordered by the CCI into the instant messaging platform’s updated privacy policy.

Facebook India, the Indian subsidiary of US-based Facebook Inc (now known as Meta Platforms), argued that the CCI has clubbed it in its ongoing investigation against Facebook Inc and WhatsApp even though it has not formed any prima facie opinion against it.

“There has to be a prima facie case which directs the Director General to cause any investigation. I am aggrieved by the clubbing order. The allegations made are exactly the same. I am a subsidiary but not involved in any policy-making,” senior advocate Parag Tripathi, representing Facebook India, said.

Justice Varma noted that the plea by Facebook Inc challenging the CCI probe has already been dismissed by the division bench.

“With all due respect, you suddenly wake up now and challenge the order. Enough is enough. There has to be some end to luxury to litigate,” the high court said and dismissed the plea.

The division bench, in August, had said the single judge’s April order was well-reasoned and the appeals were devoid of merits.

In April last year, a single judge of the high court refused to interdict the investigation directed by the CCI on the petitions by WhatsApp LLC and Facebook Inc –now Meta Platforms.

In January last year, CCI on its own had decided to look into WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy based on news reports regarding the same.

WhatsApp had argued before the division bench of the high court that CCI cannot probe a policy which has now been kept in abeyance to await the fate of the Data Protection Bill and as well as the decision of the Supreme Court and the high court on issues concerning the legality of the privacy policy.

Facebook had argued that there was not even prima facie material in the case against it and CCI cannot investigate it in a creeping fashion. CCI, however, had contended that its investigation into the new privacy policy should be allowed to proceed as the policy has not been withdrawn and the scope of its inquiry has no overlap with the Supreme Court proceedings which pertain to issues of an alleged infringement of user privacy.

The anti-trust regulator had said that its investigation concerned WhatsApp’s anti-competitive sharing of user data with Facebook and that the issues concerning privacy law and judicial process cannot be used to thwart the investigation.

It had also defended the initiation of a probe against Facebook as well in connection with WhatsApp’s privacy policy, saying that the former is the holding company of the messaging platform and it can potentially exploit the data being shared.

Before the single judge, WhatsApp and Facebook had challenged CCI’s March 2021 order directing a probe against them.

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