Airtel tracking users’ sexual orientation: here’s what the company had to say

  • Airtel’s privacy policy mentioned it can collect user’ genetic information, sexual orientation, and political opinion
  • The more extreme points are now being removed from the privacy policy
  • The telecom giant said it was an inadvertent error caused by using a generic template for the page

Airtel’s privacy policy seems to have caused quite a stir on the social media platform. The telecom giant in its policy mentioned that it can collect users’ sensitive personal information, such as genetic information, sexual orientation, and political opinion, and share these with third parties. This is objectionable on a certain high level for many on Twitter and the company has started facing the heat from all corners. Airtel has now clarified to NDTV Gadgets 360 that it has updated the privacy policy to remove the more extreme points. Airtel said, “This was an inadvertent error caused by using a generic template for the page.”

Bharti Airtel stated, “The policy mentions expansive definitions which may not be warranted, and also that it does not collect information beyond what is permissible by the law, including any personal information relating to genetic data, religious or political beliefs, health or sexual orientation, etc.” However, this exact phrasing is subtle for what is actually permissible by the law since it is open to misuse.

Airtel’s privacy policy mentions sensitive personal data and information (SPDI) for legal matters. It says the policy may include genetic data, biometric data, racial or ethnic origin, religious, philosophical beliefs, political opinion, and sexual orientation, but is not limited to the above. While it also gathers financial data that is related to billing and physiological info that is related to the tailoring of products and services on offer, these are permitted.

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According to Prashant Mali, lawyer and cybersecurity expert, users’ sexual orientation and even political opinions fall within SPDI under Section 43A of the Information Technology Act (2000), meaning collecting and processing them are within the rules. “If one feels violated, they can file a complaint against Airtel for damages and compensation of up to Rs. 5 crores before the Adjudication Officer, i.e. the Principal Secretary (IAS) of the state,” noted Mali. Airtel’s policy says that it may transfer users’ personal information to companies both in and outside of India. But it clarified that all entities should agree to follow Airtel’s guidelines for the “management, treatment and secrecy of personal information.”