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WhatsApp deletes 2M accounts per month to curb fake news; outlines how

WhatsApp is deleting 2 million accounts per month to arrest the spread of fake news and misinformation, the company revealed in a white paper titled ‘Stopping Abuse’ released in India earlier this week. WhatsApp is deleting these accounts for bulk or automated behaviour, over 75% of the accounts were banned by the company without any recent user report, it said.

WhatsApp’s white paper findings

  • WhatsApp said that spam accounts try to send high volumes of messages soon after registering – it bans 20% of the monthly accounts at registration. Additionally, messages from automated accounts rarely have a “typing” status displayed.
  • WhatsApp has designed its system to identify bulk or automated accounts originating from a suspicious phone number or computer network. Attackers had also attempted to game the hardware to try to control several accounts at the same time.

Banning at registration:
“For example, an account registered five minutes before attempting to send 100 messages in 15 seconds is almost certain to be engaged in abuse, as is an account that attempts to quickly create dozens of groups or add thousands of users to a series of existing groups. We ban these accounts immediately and automatically.”

WhatsApp has been under the Indian government’s scanner due to the rampant abuse on the platform, which has led to several deaths as well. Outside of this, there’s a national election upcoming – an ET report cited a senior executive, presumably from WhatsApp, as saying that Indian political parties were abusing WhatsApp ahead of the general elections.

Over the past few months, WhatsApp has launched an advertising campaign, street theatre in several states, handed over research grants to study fake news, appointed a US-based grievance redressal officer for India, and roped in Abhijit Bose as its first-ever country head for India.

“Private messaging, not publisher”

WhatsApp has sought to present itself as a private messaging platform meant for communication between individuals or groups, unlike broadcast-like platforms Twitter and Facebook. “We’re not here to give people a megaphone, we’re here for private messaging,” said WhatsApp’s Matt Jones, who leads the anti-spam engineering team at the company.

Jones said there had been evidence in earlier state elections of a “major party appearing to create multiple groups of voters based on demographic data.” Communications head Carl Woog also said that WhatsApp had engaged with political parties to send their “firm view” that WhatsApp is not a broadcast service, and not a place to send messages at scale.

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Safe harbour rule changes over-broad and not possible

WhatsApp said that the Indian government’s proposed rules on safe harbour which require tech companies to hand over encrypted messages is “over-broad” and “not possible”, reports the Financial Times. Woog said that the changes would require it to “re-architect WhatsApp since it is end-to-end encrypted” which would lead to a different product, “one that would not be fundamentally private.”

The draft rules require technology and internet companies to hand over information to law enforcement. WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, and would have to break end-to-end encryption to meet this requirement. The rules also require businesses with over 5 million users to be registered under the Companies Act, with a physical officer in India. Further, platforms have to take down “unlawful content” within 24 hours.

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