WhatsApp has informed the government that it is building a local team, including India head, as part of steps to check fake news circulation but has not met the key demand of identifying message originators, according to official sources. The popular messaging app is under fire over abuse of its platform for circulation of fake news that have incited mob fury. The IT Ministry official said that WhatsApp has responded to the government last notice, outlining initiatives being taken to curb fake news circulation including education and advocacy efforts.
It is also building an India-based team, the official said but noted that the measures do not meet the government’s expectations on ‘traceability’ and attribution of such messages. WhatsApp, on its part, has maintained that message attributions would “undermine the private nature” of the platform, and leave it vulnerable potentially to “serious misuse”, a company official said. When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: “To support our users in India and continue our investment in the country, it’s our top priority to hire a local leader who can help us build a team on the ground.” The two senior leadership roles that are currently open for India are – Head of India and Head of Policy.
People rely on WhatsApp for all kinds of sensitive conversations, including with their doctors, banks and families. The police also use WhatsApp to discuss investigations and report crimes. “Attributing messages on WhatsApp would undermine the private nature of WhatsApp and create the potential for serious misuse. Our focus is on improving WhatsApp and working closely with others in society to help keep people safe,” the spokesperson added. WhatsApp said it believes the challenge of mob violence requires government, civil society, and technology companies to work together. “It’s why we’ve already made significant product changes to help slow the spread of misinformation and are working to educate people on how to spot fake news,” WhatsApp said.
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Expressing its deep commitment to helping people across India communicate in a safe, secure, and reliable manner, WhatsApp noted that its Chief Operating Officer Matt Idema had recently travelled to India and met with representatives of IT Ministry. Meanwhile, the Ministry official who did not wish to be named said WhatsApp, in its response, has informed the government that it has registered a legal entity in India. But the platform has not committed itself on ‘traceability’ and attribution of messages, the official said, adding that this had been one of the key demands of the government. Hence the ministry’s concerns have not been addressed, and the potential for misuse still remains, the source said.