Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

WhatsApp agrees to meet all govt demands except message traceability

The News

  • WhatsApp has agreed to meet all demands of the Indian IT ministry, except adding a feature that could help trace origin of a message.

Timeline:

Dealing with fake news via WhatsApp:

  • Whatsapp is at the center of controversies concerning circulation of fake news, child porn and other objectionable content.
  • The Government holds the view that the messaging platform will be treated as abettor of rumour propagation and legal consequences will follow.
  • As a result, the government has issued two notices to Whatsapp to take necessary measures to curb objectionable content and rumours being spread on the messaging platform.

Government’s Demands

  • Whatsapp should comply with Indian laws and have a governance officer in India.
  • It must have a grievance officer in India to check the circulation of fake messages.
  • It must find solutions for locating the origin of fake messages.

 

Whatsapp’s response

  • Whatsapp is building a local team, including India head, as part of steps to check fake news circulation.
  • However, it cannot meet the key demand of identifying message originators.

 

How is it done?

  • Whatsapp has added new features to identify forwarded messages.
  • It has agreed to limit the number of people one can forward a message to, to 5.

 

Why traceability of a message is difficult?

  • The user data on Whatsapp is encrypted end-to-end.
  • This means only user has access to this data not even Whatsapp.
  • Without access to any user data, Whatsapp had virtually no interaction outside the group to identify and block the users.
    This (decryption) will require a fundamental change in Whatsapp’s feature which is complete privacy to the user.

 

Payments Company: Data storage and processing

Context

  • WhatsApp is planning to roll out UPI-based integrated payment solution for its 200-million-plus users in India.
  • WhatsApp launched its payments service last year in collaboration with ICICI Bank after getting permission from NPCI to run a beta version.
  • In April 2018, the RBI directed all payment companies to store all financial data of Indians within India only.
    • WhatsApp was sharing some of its data with Facebook. The apprehension is regarding data safety as Facebook has been involved in cases relating to data misuse (Cambridge analytica).
  • However, Whatsapp’s privacy policy specifies that users in the country should agree to their payments data being stored in the US and other countries.

Government’s Demand

  • Whatsapp should have a corporate entity in India with the responsibility of storage and processing of user data in India.

Whatsapp’s Response

  • WhatsApp has agreed to comply with Indian laws and regulations including that of RBI and NPCI in this regard.

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