By Elton Gomes
WhatsApp has formed its local entity in India, with operations set to begin soon, information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday, after meeting with Chris Daniels, vice-president of WhatsApp.
This is Daniels’ second visit to India in the past two months. Daniels previously met Prasad after reports emerged of numerous lynching-related deaths due to messages circulating on WhatsApp. The Indian government cracked the whip on the messaging app, coercing it to take stringent measures or face legal action.
In its efforts to put an end to misinformation spread through the app, WhatsApp said it would also be appointing its India head soon.
WhatsApp to appoint India head soon
On Wednesday, WhatsApp said it will appoint a head of India operations by the end of this year. “Our new Head of WhatsApp India, who will be named by the end of the year, will build a local team that can serve our customers in India as well as work with partners and government leaders to help keep people safe,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in an email statement, PTI reported.
India tells WhatsApp to station grievance officer in the country
India has told WhatsApp that its grievance officer should be stationed in the country instead of in the US, and that the messaging platform will have to trace the origin of messages if required by law enforcement agencies.
“On the issue of traceability, I emphasised that when we talk of traceability, we don’t talk of decrypting messages,” Prasad said after meeting with Daniels on Wednesday. “We insist rather on location and identification of the sender of WhatsApp messages when such messages lead to provocation of violence, heinous offences and other serious crimes,” the Economic Times reported.
WhatsApp has promised that it will be looking into the matter and issue a response soon. In an email interview to the Economic Times, Daniels said the messaging service is unlikely to give up on the “core” issue of maintaining its encryption standards. He further said that WhatsApp wants a “level playing field” for its services in India.
WhatsApp refuses India’s demand to trace origin of messages
WhatsApp had earlier said that it will not comply with the Indian government’s demand to trace the origin of messages, as the move could compromise the privacy of WhatsApp users.
“People rely on WhatsApp for all kinds of sensitive conversations, including with their doctors, banks and families. Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating potential for serious misuse,” WhatsApp said in a statement, the Hindu reported.
The development came after Daniels met with information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for the first time in August. Citing the company’s terms and conditions, WhatsApp stated that it is not designed to track individual messages since it does not have access to private conversations on the app.
After WhatsApp clarified its stance, the government urged the company to continue looking for solutions to the problem.
Should WhatsApp be held accountable for lynchings?
The Indian government’s insistence on WhatsApp finding a solution indicates that the former has little knowledge about how the messaging app works.
The government’s approach clearly highlights its inability to address larger issues that are to blame for the lynchings. India appears to be one of the only countries in the world to fall prey to viral messages that have led to lynchings. Besides incessantly pushing WhatsApp to come up with solutions, the government, on its own, seems to have done nothing to curb the spread of misinformation. It has to consider the fact that it will be impossible to monitor and track WhatsApp conversations without breaking one of the service’s most important features.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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