In a recent Apex court ruling, service providers like Airtel, Jio, Reliance, and Vodafone are now allowed to reassign old, deactivated numbers to new subscribers after a 90 day period.
The Supreme Court of India warns WhatsApp Users especially those with prepaid phone numbers who plan to change their mobile numbers. Since WhatsApp is linked to a user’s mobile number, the recent ruling has implications for the app’s users.
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Court recommends users protect their own privacy
The court recommends users switching service providers or changing numbers to first thoroughly delete all WhatsApp data. The court stated, “The subscriber can prevent misuse of WhatsApp data by deleting the WhatsApp account attached with the previous phone number and erasing the WhatsApp data stored on the local device memory/cloud/drive. It is for the earlier subscriber to take adequate steps to ensure that privacy is maintained.”
Court denies petition
The bench headed by Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti has dismissed a petition seeking a direction from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to issue directions to mobile services providers against issuing deactivated mobile numbers to new customers. The court explained it’s decision for dismissing the writ petition due to the counter affidavit filed by Trai that phone numbers once deactivated are only reassigned after expiry of the statutory period.
The court’s decision is in alignment to the guidelines set by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in April 2017. The guidelines state that a mobile number deactivated due to non-usage or disconnection at subscriber’s request should not be reassigned to a new subscriber for a period of at least 90 days. The court stated that it supports the DoT policy of not reassigning numbers immediately to allow old users to take adequate measures for privacy protection.
Trai mentions MNRL in affidavit
Trai in it’s affidavit also mentioned the Mobile Number Revocation List (MNRL) which is a list consisting of deactivated phone numbers. This list is shared with stakeholders to ensure transparency and efficiency and to ensure that sensitive data like OTP’s are not sent to someone else other than the actual customer. MNRL are available to various service providers/agencies including banks, and non banking financial institutions, and other regulated institutions under RBI, Sebi, etc. This allows for agencies to clean up their databases.
WhatsApp responds to data security
Whatsapp stated that in order to maintain security, limit data retention, and protect the privacy of its users, WhatsApp accounts are typically deleted after 120 days of inactivity. Inactivity refers to the user not connecting to WhatsApp in a long period.
It also stated that content stored locally on a user’s device before deleting the application will again be restored once the user re-registers for the app.
User’s changing phone numbers should delete all data from WhatsApp before re-registering with a new number to ensure that private chats, photos and phone numbers of close ones are not compromised.