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WhatsApp Says ‘No’ To Tracing Fake News, Won’t Weaken Users’ Privacy Protections

WhatsApp Says ‘No’ To Tracing Fake News, Won’t Weaken Users’ Privacy Protections

WhatsApp said it cannot build a software to trace the origin of a message on its platform

The company said it will not weaken the privacy protections it provides to its users via end-to-end encryption of messages

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had asked WhatsApp to curb fake news on its platform and work with law enforcement agencies

Day 1 in India and WhatsApp chief Chris Daniels received a strict warning from Union minister of IT Ravi Shankar Prasad to curb as well as trace fake news on its platform. However, the messaging platform has now said it cannot build a software to trace the origin of a message on its platform.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said, “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide.”

The spokesperson emphasised that people rely on WhatsApp for all kinds of “sensitive conversations”, including with their doctors, banks, and families. WhatsApp has more than 200 Mn users in India.

“Our focus remains on working closely with others in India to educate people about misinformation and help keep people safe,” the spokesperson added.

During the meeting, Prasad also asked Daniels to work closely with law enforcement agencies in India and create public awareness campaigns to prevent misuse of the app.

Prasad had added that WhatsApp could face abetment charges if no action is taken.

The government’s push to curb fake news on social media platforms comes in the wake of more than 31 killings across India this year in mob lynchings, fuelled by rumours circulating on WhatsApp. Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, and West Bengal are said to be the states that were most affected due to fake news proliferating on social media.

Following this, the ministry wrote a letter to WhatsApp saying that it could not “evade accountability and responsibility, especially when good technological inventions are abused by some miscreants who resort to provocative messages which lead to spread of violence.”

WhatsApp has since taken out full-page advertisements in prominent English and Hindi newspapers warning readers on fake news.

Recently, the company officials had met the Election Commission and assured it that it would make all possible efforts to curb circulation of fake news on WhatsApp during the upcoming elections in India.

WhatsApp had also restricted its message forwarding limit to five chats at a time.

Fake News: Cause For Serious Concern In India

India has been proactively addressing fake news concerns by engaging with several global as well as Indian companies.

The government has now directed all social media platforms to take prompt action against fake messages, including tracing their origin. It also asked them to work with Indian government officials to redress grievances in real time and to inform law enforcement agencies about them.

Further, global search giant Google has also taken the onus to address fake news in India. For this, the company has launched its Google News Initiative Training Network in India in partnership with BoomLive, DataLeads, and Internews. 

Through this training, it wants to equip journalists with best-in-class skills required to debunk fake news.

Reports surfaced that Twitter was partnering with law enforcement agencies and regulators to curb fake news and prevent trolling on the social networking site ahead of the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Prior to this, Inc42 had reported that Facebook had announced it will introduce a third-party fact-checking programme in India in partnership with BOOM.

As of March, there were more than 460 Mn Indian users of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp.

At a time when issues such as data privacy and security have become an increasingly important issue in India and across the world, WhatsApp’s stand to protect its users’ data and privacy is understandable. But it also needs to figure out a way to tackle the fake news problem to the satisfaction of the Indian authorities.

[The development was reported by Livemint.]