The court order came on a petition challenging WhatsApp’s announcement in August that it would start sharing users’ account information such as phone number with parent company Facebook, marking a notable shift in its policy on privacy.
The messaging app, which Facebook acquired in 2014, gave users a 30-day period to choose if they wanted to share information with the social network or opt out before the old policy expires on September 25.
WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption for users, meaning no third party can access users’ messages even after September 25. But fears arose over data collected automatically such as usage and log in information, and service-related data about how users use its services or how they interact with one another.
Data from the messaging service will allow for more relevant advertisements and friend recommendations on Facebook.
Two Delhi-based users challenged the decision in the high court, saying it severely compromises the rights of its users.
Hearing their petitions, a bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini directed WhatsApp not to share any user data collected till September 25, 2016, with Facebook or any other related company.
“We are of the view that it is always open to the users of WhatsApp, who do not want their information to be shared with Facebook, to opt for deletion of their account,” the court said.
Also, the court directed the government to see if there is a need to bring instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp under the statutory regulatory framework.
The messaging app has maintained all along that it does not retain user information on its servers once the account is deleted.
Although WhatsApp, which has more than 1 billion users worldwide, sought to reassure people that it would not sell, share, or give phone numbers to advertisers, not many were convinced.
The petitioners’ lawyer said WhatsApp, which has about 70 million users in India, that user information is retained even after an account is deleted.