Even as the government sets up an internal group to keep tabs on WhatsApp, the Facebook-subsidiary has amped up its efforts to keep Indian officials happy. US and India-based senior executives from the company met the Election Commission (EC) and assured the commission that it would make all possible efforts to prevent misuse of the platform in India’s coming election cycle.
WhatsApp told the Election Commission that it would look out for spam messaging techniques in the run-up to the state (Mizoram) polls scheduled for 2018-end, from the time the Model Code of Conduct kicks in, and especially 48 hours before polling.
Also, the company plans to bring in the Verificado model to India. Verificado was a collective fact-checking exercise deployed by WhatsApp during recent Mexican election. The company enabled a similar service in Brazil, where 24 media outlets came together to fact-check viral content and rumours.
Reports revealed that the meetings were held with teams of researchers and executives dealing with public policy, customer operations and business development.
EC officials also informed that WhatsApp has agreed to maintain high vigilance in the run-up to the elections, especially from the time the Model Code of Conduct comes into effect. It is to be noted that election campaigning in India stops 48 hours before polling begins.
At the same time, WhatsApp emphasised on its end-to-end encryption feature and protecting privacy.
The messaging service team also met big Indian banks, which need to be its partners in its Pay service.
The lessons from monitoring efforts of end-2018 elections are expected to help frame a broader approach for general elections scheduled for 2019.
With 200 mn Indian users, WhatsApp is looking at nearly 24.1% of the overall electorate. That proportion will be considerably higher, experts say, as 2019 polls approach.
The company also assured Congress political party representatives that it would not allow “spammy techniques on the platform, and no automated messages”.
Also, WhatsApp is expected to be focusing on “upstream detection” — weeding out ‘suspicious’ users at the registration stage. Machine learning will be used to detect sequential numbers used to create groups.
Notably, sequential numbers typically come from buying several SIMs at one go from a telecom company. WhatsApp plans to use tools to “distinguish good and bad users”.
At the same time, reports have surfaced that the government on Thursday warned WhatsApp that failure to contain fake news makes it an abettor” in the crime which could lead to “consequent legal action”.
Facebook, with its messaging subsidiary WhatsApp has been under global scrutiny world over after Cambridge Analytica fiasco which compromised data of over 87 mn users across the world.
As Facebook and WhatsApp try to prove their data security commitments, elections in India are definitely a good start.
[The development was reported by ET.]