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WhatsApp testing ‘search by image’ feature to combat fake news

WhatsApp is testing a new ‘search by image’ feature that could help tackle the spread of misinformation and fake news on its platform, according to a report on Wabetainfo. Also known as reverse image search, the new feature is undergoing internal testing and is not yet available publicly. It is not clear when the feature will be rolled out. Once live, search by image will let you upload any image directly from your WhatsApp chats to Google, which will check if it appears elsewhere on the web and in what context. By sifting through the search results you will be able to determine whether the image is genuine or fake.

India, WhatsApp’s largest market with more than 250 million users, is struggling to contain the spread of fake news on its platform. Rumours spread on WhatsApp have led to several riots and lynchings in the past two years.

In July 2018 the Union government ordered WhatsApp to take steps to curb the spread of fake news on its platform or face legal action. WhatsApp responded by labeling all forwarded messages as such, removing the quick-forward button, and limiting the number of forwards to just five people or groups at a time.

2 million accounts deleted per month; proposed safe harbour changes

Last month, WhatsApp said it is deleting 2 million accounts per month to arrest the spread of fake news and misinformation. 75% of these accounts were proactively removed without any user report. WhatsApp 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,” the company said.

The spate of fake news resulting in lynchings in the country were among the reasons that triggered proposed amendments to the Intermediary Liability Rules under the IT Act. The amendments seek to hold platforms more responsible for the content that users exchange on their platform. One of the most glaring requirements was that of traceability, a feature which would enable law enforcement/platform to trace where a message/content originated. This is especially tricky for WhatsApp, which is an end-to-end encrypted platform. WhatsApp’s global head of communications Carl Woog said last month that the amendments 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.”

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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”

Also read: WhatsApp is piloting forwarding restrictions in India; Not enough

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