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Does Google Pay illegally store Aadhaar data? Delhi HC asks RBI, UIDAI, Google to respond

The court issued notices while hearing a petition that opposed Google’s access to the data on constitutional grounds.

The Delhi High Court has sought responses from UIDAI, RBI, and Google on a petition which argues that Google Pay is illegally collecting and storing the Aadhaar and bank details of its users, LiveLaw reported

Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh heard the plea filed by Abhijit Mishra on September 15, according to LiveLaw. Mishra’s petition, seen by MediaNama, requested the court to order UIDAI to protect the Aadhaar and banking details of citizens from being unlawfully stored by Google Pay. The company, however, told MediaNama that Google Pay does not collect Aadhaar data.  

The safety of Aadhaar data of Indian citizens has been a matter of major concern ever since the unique ID was launched in 2016. The petition raises serious questions about the privacy protocols followed around the Aadhaar database, and responses from UIDAI, RBI, and Google might help bring some clarity on the issue. 

Google Pay’s access to Aadhaar data unconstitutional: PIL 

Violation of Aadhaar Act, Right to Privacy: The petition highlights that Google Pay mentioned in its terms of service in 2019 that it can collect and share citizens’ Aadhaar data. Mishra argued that Google’s access to Aadhaar data violated the rights of Indian citizens:

[…]such heinous, unpardonable and unconstitutional conduct of Respondents – 3 i.e. Google Pay of collecting, storing, and using of the citizens Aadhaar, banking personal data and any communications routed through its servers is in complete contravention of the Aadhaar Act 2016 and is a deemed compromise and violation of the “Fundamental Right of Privacy” — Petition

No permission given by UIDAI or RBI: In the petition, Mishra included RTIs filed with UIDAI and RBI, both of which reveal that they did not permit Google to access Aadhaar data to process payments through the BHIM AADHAAR platform. The lack of such permissions show, the petition said, that Google’s access to Aadhaar data is illegal and unconstitutional. 

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What do Google Pay’s Terms of Service say about Aadhaar?

Plans to support Pay to Aadhaar in 2019: The 2019 version of Google Pay’s terms of service indicate that Google sought users’ Aadhaar data to launch Pay to Aadhaar, a feature released by UPI that would allow users to make payments using just the Aadhaar number of the receiver:

You, hereby expressly consent to and permit Google or its group companies to collect, store and share […] information with respect to the third parties including Bank Account or Aadhaar details. […] Google Pay does not support the Pay to Aadhaar feature, though it may do so in the future with notice to you and in accordance with applicable laws. — Google Pay Terms of Service, 27 February 2019

The Pay to Aadhaar feature, however, was discontinued by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) in 2018, considering the sensitive nature of Aadhaar numbers. 

No mention of Aadhaar in latest Terms: The current version of Google Pay’s terms of service for India makes no mention of Aadhaar data. Here are the main privacy-related clauses of Google Pay’s updated terms of service –

  • UPI Transaction Data: Google may share UPI Transaction Data with Merchants, Banks, Third Party Providers, and service providers. Such data will not be used for monetisation by anyone other than Google.
  • Bank Account Details: To receive payments on Google Pay, users have to consent to allowing Google to store their bank account number.
  • Correspondence Information: Google will collect information about correspondences on Google Pay to improve their services and offer better suggestions to users.
  • Access to Messages: Google can access messages on a user’s device through automated means to provide enhanced services by Google, like submitting OTPs.
  • Retain Deleted Data: Google may retain data that you delete from Google Pay for legal reasons.

No Aadhaar data collected by app: Google

In response to a query sent to Google by MediaNama regarding the PIL, a company spokesperson told us that no Aadhaar data is collected by Google Pay:

The PIL alludes to a feature that was announced under the UPI Guidelines, called ‘Pay to Aadhar’ in 2017. However, the feature was never made live on Google Pay. Google Pay’s terms of service were accordingly amended to reflect that no Aadhar data of users is collected by the app. — Google spokesperson

According to a report by The Economic Times, the company had earlier filed an affidavit in the Delhi High Court on August 2020 in response to a similar PIL, in which it clarified that “Google Pay does not require user’s Aadhaar details, in any manner whatsoever and therefore, neither does it require to access the Aadhaar database nor does it have access to the Aadhaar database.” 

The Delhi High Court has listed the matter of Mishra’s PIL for further hearing on November 8.

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