Over the past few months, WhatsApp has come under the radar of the Indian Government for the circulation of fake messages cited across different parts of India. The government had sent out two notices to the WhatsApp head office, with the intention of directing it to take urgent measure to stop false information and track down the origins of the messages through the messaging application.
Quite obviously WhatsApp refused this petition, stating that it would be violating its privacy protocol. And even if the app maker was willing to compromise its end-to-end encryption, the change would have adverse effects on the entire system.
Obviously enough the Indian Government was pleased with the situation. After creating quite, a rage against the app developers, they finally sent out another petition to WhatsApp, reminding them to meet the needed requirements or else risk being banned from the country.
Burdened with allegations, WhatsApp in the meanwhile has tried to restore its dignity by putting out preventing measures like limiting forwards to five groups at a time instead of the earlier 250. It has also introduced a ‘forward’ label to help users identify such messages, and has even started a radio public awareness campaign against fake news.
But ‘mere’ preventive measure doesn’t cut it for the Indian Government. Annoyed senior government officials that threatened the messaging platform with a statement that, if compromising its encryption is unacceptable to WhatsApp, then the onus is on the company to provide an alternate technical solution to trace a message’s origins.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with more than 200 million users and has profited immensely but does not pay the country any tax. According to the petition that was put forth to the supreme court of India, “WhatsApp is a foreign company with no office or servers in India. To run payments service in India. WhatsApp is obligated to have its office and payments in India. Yet, it is being allowed to continue with its payments and other services, without any checks.”
Unlike Facebook Inc. or Google Inc., WhatsApp did not have a grievance officer and it was only after solid pressure from the government officials that the messaging platform succumbed under pressure and finally appointed a ‘Grievance Officer of India,’ meeting one of the demands made by the officials of the Indian Government.
The current update mentions that users can now seek help through the mobile app, send an email or write into grievance officer Komal Lahiri, who is based out of the US. According to Lahiri’s LinkedIn profile, she is currently the senior director, global customer operations and localisation, at WhatsApp.
The WhatsApp users can reach out to the company’s support team directly from the app under the ‘Settings’ tab and if they wish to escalate the complaint, they can contact the grievance officer.
A section within the FAQs reads: “You (users) can contact the Grievance Officer with complaints or concerns, including the following: WhatsApp’s Terms of Service; and Questions about your account.”
With the general election of India slated for 2019, the government has finally woken up and started paying attention to sinister developments like mob lynching, fake news and revenge porn. The government officials and mostly the political parties have been taking a tough stance on the spread of misinformation through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
Ben Supple, Public Policy Manager at WhatsApp, said in a statement, “Our goal is to help keep people safe by creating greater awareness about fake news and empowering users to help limit its spread.” WhatsApp has also roped in New Delhi based nonprofit Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) to create awareness among its users about the need to verify information. Together they have committed to holding 40 training sessions for community leaders in 10 states across the country where there have been worrisome cases of violence have been cited and where there will be state polls before the end of the year.