WhatsApp officials meet MeitY on traceability of fake news

WhatsApp officials meet MeitY on traceability of fake news
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Reuters
7 Dec, 2018

Executives from instant messaging app WhatsApp met with officials at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) this week to iron out issues related to the spread of fake news. The Indian government is keen that the Facebook-owned messenger platform allows messages to be traced to curb fake news and rumours.

The meeting, proposed by WhatsApp director and general counsel Brian Hennessy, was conducted through a video conference early this week, according to multiple media reports. The messaging platform didn’t give a definitive response to the government’s demands for the traceability of messages, said the reports.

India is WhatsApp’s largest market with more than 200 million monthly active users. The messenger platform has enabled end-to-end encryption of messages which can only be decrypted at the user end, which means the recipient’s phone. Therefore, the platform cannot intercept or tap messages. In earlier interviews to multiple media outlets, WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels has maintained that the platform will retain its safeguards on encryption and will work around this to curb the spread of misinformation or fake news. The traceability of a message to the origin will require the platform to reframe its policy on encryption.

Lately, the messenger platform has also been frequently engaging with the Indian government to push for business opportunities. It launched WhatsApp Pay in February this year but has lost out to competitors such as Google Pay due to bottlenecks related to compliances on storing local user data in India. The company is also trying to get WhatsApp for business off the ground in the country and has been in conversations with the Indian government to iron out differences

Specifically, with respect to fake news, the company has registered an entity in Hyderabad and appointed a US-based grievance officer to look into complaints related to the matter.

More recently, the company appointed its first country head outside the US. Ezetap founder and CEO Abhijit Bose joined the company last week to lead business initiatives in the country.

In his recent visit to India in October, CEO Daniels said that the messenger app will be conducting digital literacy training across 15 states and will launch public education campaigns to spot false news through the print, radio and online media. In an interview, Daniels had also mentioned that WhatsApp has been experimenting with features which can limit the number of forwards and block automated accounts.