Fake News: Govt Demands Serious Solutions from WhatsApp

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New Delhi: India on Tuesday asked WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook, to devise ways to trace the origin of fake messages circulated on the platform, set up a local corporate entity and appoint a grievance officer to address complaints, aiming to curb the spread of deadly rumours that have claimed several lives.

“I requested CEO WhatsApp Chris Daniels to set up a grievance officer in India; establish a corporate entity in India & comply with Indian laws. He assured me that WhatsApp will soon take steps on all these counts,” information technology (IT) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Twitter after a meeting with Daniels on Tuesday.

Daniels’s visit to India and his meeting with Prasad follows more than a dozen killings across India this year in mob lynchings fuelled by rumours circulating on WhatsApp. The government last month warned the company that it can’t evade responsibility if its service is used to spread false information.

The government on Tuesday also sought a technological solution from WhatsApp to trace the origin of fake messages. “I have said in the past that it does not take rocket science to locate a message being circulated in hundreds and thousands… You must have a mechanism to find a solution,” Prasad said after the meeting on Tuesday. WhatsApp could face abetment charges if no action is taken, he added.

Tracing the origin of messages may not be easy.

“The government’s demand for a technology solution requires the content of the message to be read. The content on WhatsApp is encrypted and the user has a key to de-encrypt it, which also changes dynamically,” a cyber lawyer said, requesting anonymity.

On its part, apart from running user education campaigns in India, WhatsApp has capped the number of recipients of a chat message to five to limit mass spamming. Also, the quick forward button next to media messages has been disabled. On 3 July, the social media giant rolled out a new feature to clearly mark “forwarded” messages.

“We said we have flagged attention to the RBI, namely financial data being in India. The RBI is working on the guidelines and he (Daniels) has assured me, whatever guidelines RBI comes out with, he will comply with that,” Prasad said on Tuesday, according to a report by news agency PTI.