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WhatsApp appoints US-based Komal Lahiri as grievance officer for India


WhatsApp has appointed a grievance officer for India, reports Economic Times. This is after both the Union Government and the Supreme Court demanded that WhatsApp take steps to ensure safety and comply with local laws. WhatsApp’s senior director of global customer operations & localization Komal Lahiri has taken the role, and will be based out of the US. Users can email Lahiri with “complaints or concerns” which also includes the “WhatsApp’s Terms of Service and questions about your account.”

According to the FAQ on WhatsApp, Lahiri can be contacted via email with an electronic signature and through post. “If you’re contacting us about a specific account, please include your phone number in full international format, including the country code,” says the company’s website. The updated FAQs also deal with guidelines for how law enforcement officials can reach out to WhatsApp.

Lahiri earlier spent four years with Facebook in the product planning team and later was senior director of community operations. She was at PayPal for 6 years at several roles prior to that. She has been with WhatsApp since March this year as senior director of global customer operations & localization.

Government’s demand for a local presence in India

Lahiri’s appointment comes after the Union IT Minister RS Prasad demanded that WhatsApp have physical presence in the country and spread awareness to prevent misuse of the platform. The minister has also reiterated that the WhatsApp’s payments service can launch after the company sets up an office in India and hires people for it here. The Supreme Court also jumped on last week to demand that WhatsApp comply with local laws such as appointing a grievance officer.

Over the past few months, the Facebook-backed company has come under scrutiny as a spate of lynchings took place across the country, reportedly based on rumours spread on WhatsApp. The Union Government sent a notice to WhatsApp citing its inability to stop the spread of fake news and rumours. It issued a second notice to WhatsApp after a 32-year-old man was lynched based on rumour, urging the platform to make traceability of messages a key part of its service.

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Data access for law enforcement

WhatsApp has reiterated that it will not break encryption and violate user privacy for law enforcement purposes. “We also offer end-to-end encryption for our services, which is always activated. End-to-end encryption means that messages are encrypted to protect against WhatsApp and third parties from reading them,” says the company website. WhatsApp said it will part with information “which we are reasonably able to locate and retrieve”.

In earlier correspondence with MeitY, WhatsApp had maintained that it will not violate user privacy by breaking end-to-end encryption. This was after MeitY demanded traceability and accountability of fake news and rumours spreading on the platform, so that law enforcement agencies can know the origin of the message(s).

Read: Exclusive: Government makes notices to WhatsApp, responses public

Additionally, the company has laid out the following for law enforcement agencies:

  • The company will “take steps” to preserve account records for official criminal investigations for upto 90 days, provided that the agency/body has filed an official preservation request. “We do not retain data for law enforcement purposes unless we receive a valid preservation request before a user has deleted that content from our service,” says the company’s new policy.
  • Law enforcement bodies can make an “emergency” request for information “to a matter involving imminent harm to a child or risk of death or serious physical injury to any person.”

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