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RS Prasad to WhatsApp CEO: WhatsApp needs to have an Indian office

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has reiterated to Chris Daniels, the new WhatsApp CEO, what the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said previously: WhatsApp needs to have a physical presence in India. “I further asked […] Daniels to work closely with law enforcement agencies of India and create public awareness campaign to prevent misuse of WhatsApp,” Prasad said. “He assured me that WhatsApp will undertake these initiatives.”

MeitY’s demand towards WhatsApp was more conditional: WhatsApp could go ahead with its payments plans in India only after it opened an office and hired a team of people for it. The wildly popular messaging service does not have any employees stationed in India, which is its largest market, yet. Prasad said that Daniels told him that the company would “would soon take steps on all these counts.”

Daniels was accompanied by Ankhi Das, Facebook’s head for public policy in South Asia. He previously headed Facebook’s Free Basics program, which had to pull out of India because of a TRAI action. Daniels was appointed as WhatsApp CEO after its founding head Jan Koum quit over disagreements with Facebook, which bought the app in 2014 for a staggering $19 billion.

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ReadAddressing WhatsApp’s Fake News problems

As a side, the government’s calls for WhatsApp having an office in India come as the Indian government pushes for localisation of people’s personal data. The Justice BN Srikrishna-led committee for data protection as well as the government’s leaked draft e-commerce policy have stressed that storing a local copy of Indians’ data should be mandatory. The data protection committee’s bill is up for consultation, and a fresh version of the e-commerce policy draft will be out for public comment soon.

The government’s notices to WhatsApp

The government has criticised WhatsApp twice, citing its inability to stop the spread of fake news and rumours that have led to murders and lynchings on numerous occasions. Right after the first notice, WhatsApp started pulling out full-page ads in Indian newspapers on spotting fake news. After a 32 year old man was killed in Bidar, Karnataka following rumours about him being a ‘child lifter’, the government sent WhatsApp a second notice, urging the platform to make traceability of messages a key part of its service.

WhatsApp messages are currently end-to-end encrypted so it’s not possible for law enforcement — or even WhatsApp — to meaningfully intercept those communications. WhatsApp has started labelling forwarded messages and rate-limiting message forwarding as a result of these problems.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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