The tug of war between the Indian government and Facebook-owned WhatsApp over traceability refuses to end. In a meeting held last week, Facebook representative had given government officials an alternative to absolute traceability of messages. However, the government has refused to budge.
The meeting was held to discuss the global tech giant’s stance on the instant messaging app’s traceability issue with home minister Amit Shah, national security advisor Ajit Doval and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on September 12.
Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communication Nick Clegg had suggested the use of metadata and machine intelligence to deal with issues. Under metadata, Facebook offered basic details such as call duration among others, of “lawfully” identified the user.
The VP even offered to harness WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook linkages to help law enforcement agencies. However, Facebook maintained that it cannot share chat details because of the encryption and privacy of users.
The Whatsapp Traceability Saga
With 400 Mn monthly active users, India is the largest market for WhatsApp. Statistically, 4 out of 5 smartphone users are using the instant messaging app. With zero to minimum censorship on the platform, it has been used to spread fake news and misinformation, leading to mob lynchings and other internal security issues in India.
The WhatsApp traceability issue and linking of Aadhar with social media platforms is currently being heard in the Supreme Court. The original petition was filed in the Madras High Court (HC) in July last year, demanding linking of social media platform with Aadhar. The Madras HC had expanded the ambit of the case to include tracing the origin of “objectionable” messages on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp had refused to give in because chats are end-to-end encrypted and it would hamper the privacy of the users. The instant messaging app has also maintained that they will have to change the fundamentals of the app to include these changes.
In the current meeting, Facebook representatives were trying to reach a middle ground with the government. A Facebook spokesperson told ET that the Clegg’s attempts are a way to ensure the safety of Indian users, while maintaining the privacy of WhatsApp users.