Officials from the Facebook owned WhatsApp met the officials from the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) over the traceability of messages, reports The Economic Times. The report mentions that the agenda was “technical issues on traceability” and that WhatsApp did not offer any kind of final “yes” or “no” response but was in a “listening mode”. According to the report, the video conference between WhatsApp and MeitY was proposed by WhatsApp director and associate general counsel Brian Hennessy.
WhatsApp has responded to MediaNama saying, “WhatsApp regularly engages with the Government of India to discuss our commitment to maintaining a private and safe platform for people to communicate with one another. We look forward to continued discussions on how we can work towards these common goals.”
WhatsApp traceability: a background
WhatsApp has so far resisted the demands of the Indian government for allowing traceability of messages that trigger rumors. WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted so it’s impossible even for the company to trace messages that end up spreading fake news that sometimes lead to lynchings and murders.
MeitY made it clear to WhatsApp: “When rumours and fake news get propagated by gullible users or mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. Therefore, there is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability so that when a provocative/inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies, it should be possible to ascertain identity of the person(s) from whom the message originated and through whom it was propagated.”
However, in August, the company had refused to do so, saying in a statement that it will not compromise on its users’ privacy.
Note that the development comes in the backdrop of WhatsApp seeking government approval to launch WhatsApp Payments in India. MeitY had told WhatsApp that it could go ahead with its payments service only after setting up an office and team. WhatsApp has been facing regulatory hurdles from the RBI over its data localisation directive that all payments related data be stored locally.
WhatsApp appointed Abhijit Bose as its India head, in November. He will build the WhatsApp office in Delhi NCR (Gurgaon), WhatsApp’s only office outside the US as of now. He will join WhatsApp in early 2019. The company has also hired Komal Lahiri as the WhatsApp grievance officer for India, she is based out of the US.
- It launched a campaign with Jio to spread awareness on fake news in a few states.
- It rolled out a beta feature which detects suspicious links on the platform.
Edit: The story has been updated with WhatsApp’s response.