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WhatsApp in govt cross hairs for spread of objectionable content

Spokesperson for WhatsApp said Indian government’s demands run counter to the company’s privacy policies.

Feb 16, 2019 by The Passage Team
WhatsApp in govt cross hairs for spread of objectionable content

The Indian government is coming down hard on WhatsApp, the most popular messaging service in the country with 200 million active users, in an effort to curb the spread of fake news and child pornography through the cross-messaging platform.

“For six months, we’ve been telling them to bring more accountability to their platform but what have they done?” Gopalakrishnan, a senior official in the ministry of electronics and information technology, told Indian Express. “So pedophiles can go about on WhatsApp fully secure that they won’t get caught. It is absolutely evil,” he added.

WhatsApp claims to ban 250,000 accounts per month for sharing questionable content.

India’s online population is projected to grow to 737 million by 2022, according to Forrester Research. India’s market potential has attracted technology giants like Walmart, Amazon and Alibaba to India. However, the government is making things difficult for such companies with tighter regulations.

The government has directed Google and Microsoft to take steps to remove images of child exploitation. “If telecom companies like Airtel, Jio and BSNL are mandated to maintain call records, why should WhatsApp get a different rule? We don’t care about the good morning and divorce messages that are shared, we only want traceability to prevent or detect crimes,” Gopalakrishnan said.

The ministry is in the process of drafting intermediary guidelines to hold WhatsApp, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter accountable for the content shared on their platforms. Such regulations would also affect Facebook, Twitter and popular Chinese apps such as Bytedance Ltd.’s TikTok.

“Blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful content in any manner whatever” would result in legal action.

WhatsApp spokesman Carl Woog said the government’s demands run counter to the company’s privacy policies. “What is contemplated by the rules is not possible today given the end-to-end encryption that we provide and it would require us to re-architect WhatsApp, leading us to a different product, one that would not be fundamentally private,” said Woog in a round table last week.

"Of the proposed regulations, the one which concerns us the most is the emphasis on traceability of messages. These changes are going overboard and are not consistent with strong privacy protections that people around the world are seeking," Woog told IANS.

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