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WhatsApp To Trace The Origin Of Fake Messages, Set Up Servers In India

With the government threatening action against WhatsApp over spread of fake news, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the American messaging platform, Chris Daniels, flew down to New Delhi to fix things.

Daniels, who took over as the boss of WhatsApp in May, on Tuesday told the government it would work out a technological solution to trace the origin of fake messages. The Facebook-owned firm, with more than 200 million active subscribers in India, also committed to complying with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) rules relating to local storage of financial data by having servers in India.

Daniels, a Facebook insider known for running internet.org at the California-based social media firm, has been firefighting with the Indian authorities over fake news soon after he was appointed as the WhatsApp boss. Following an exchange of letters with the Department of Information Technology on the steps to block fake news, the WhatsApp team decided to meet the authorities in person to list out the corrective measures planned by the company. In the country for three to four days, the team would meet other ministers and bureaucrats as well. It could not be confirmed if a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled.

Within hours of his interaction with Daniels, Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was off to Argentina for an ICT conference. From there, he will travel to Silicon Valley, which houses several prominent tech companies including WhatsApp. The minister is scheduled to meet top executives of many tech companies including Google during his US trip.

LOCAL FOCUS

WhatsApp is taking a number of steps to ensure that the messaging app is not used to transmit fake messages

TEAM WORK

It is putting together a team in India

SEARCH FOR LEADER

It will get a corporate head for the country

HELP THE LAW

The messaging app with comply with local rules, help law-enforcement agencies

CURRENT STATUS

There are 200 mn active users in India

WhatsApp, which has received several warnings and notices from the government over the spread of fake news, will set up a corporate entity to be headed by a local leader and appoint a grievance officer in India. While Daniels did not speak to reporters, Prasad said he had asked WhatsApp to have a detailed mechanism to trace the origin of any sinister message.

“He (Daniels) said the company would try to work out a technological solution for that… I flagged that it does not need a rocket science to locate a message being circulated in hundreds and thousands and millions on the same day on the same issue at the same place. You must have a mechanism to find a solution,” Prasad told reporters.

The firm had earlier expressed its inability to trace the origin of messages citing privacy of consumers, thereby triggering a controversy. The government made it clear to the American firm that platforms such as WhatsApp cannot run away from their responsibility of checking the menace of fake news by citing privacy an an excuse.

On storage of financial data, the minister said WhatsApp had given an assurance that the company would follow all

the guidelines that the RBI comes out with.

“We have flagged our concerns to the RBI, namely location of financial data in India. The RBI is working on the guidelines and he (Daniels) has assured me that whatever guidelines RBI will come out with, he will comply with that. I, in turn, conveyed to him that it shall be applicable to all the platforms whenever the guidelines come,” Prasad added.

Prasad said he suggested three points — have a grievance redressal officer in India, set up a system of compliance with Indian laws so that one does not have to contact America for every problem, ensure a proper corporate entity located in India since WhatsApp is part of the bigger digital story. WhatsApp has said it would work on all three steps, according to Prasad.

Apart from mob lynching issues arising from fake news, WhatsApp has been in talks with the government regarding the launch of its payment service. The company’s chief operating officer Matthew Idema had met IT secretary Ajay Sawhney last month.

WhatsApp had recently announced that it would limit forwards of photos, videos and messages to five chats in India and remove the quick forward button next to media messages, in a step to prevent spread of fake news.

Also, the platform is testing a label which marks links sent on chats as ‘suspicious’. – Business Standard

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