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WhatsApp pilots feature to detect suspicious links; Not enough

WhatsApp will roll out a feature to users in beta, that will mark certain messages with links as suspicious, based on what character-set they use in the links. It’s fairly common for phishing websites, or websites that try to give the impression that they’re an authentic source of information, to use URLs which appear to be authentic. Your email spam folders are usually full of such emails, especially those which seek your personal information by appearing to be a banking site. For example, a phishing attempt could use çitibank.com/login instead of citibank.com/login, and many may not be able to understand the difference. On tapping a message with a suspicious link, WhatsApp will display a warning for the user highlighting that it’s a suspicious link, but also allowing them to click on the link and visit the site if they want. This is fairly similar to standard spam warning practices adopted by browsers and is a welcome development. Note that this is being rolled out for Android users only for the time being, and only in beta. So unless you’re a beta tester for WhatsApp, you won’t be able to see this feature.

Local detection

WhatsApp has used this opportunity to highlight that the check is done locally, on the device, and there is no communication of data with its servers.

This appears to be a trend with WhatsApp: distinctly focusing on the privacy aspect of their product, and putting that in direct conflict with issues such as dealing with Fake News and Spam from a product perspective.

It’s important to note that, though this update is useful and welcome, it still doesn’t do enough to address issues related to misinformation, including preventing its spread and helping identify and bring to justice those who are responsible for violence.

A WhatsApp & Fake News in India timeline

July 20th 2018: Rolls out Suspicious message marking for beta users
July 20th 2018: Announces pilot for link forwarding restrictions for India
July 4th 2018: WhatsApp responds to IT Ministry
July 3rd 2018:
IT Ministry warns WhatsApp about Fake News
June 29th 2018:
New group features which allow only admins to send messages

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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