India asks WhatsApp to set up local entity


New Delhi: The information technology (IT) ministry on Tuesday asked Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp to take appropriate measures to curtail the spread of fake and provocative messages through its platform while complying with Indian laws.

These include setting up a corporate entity to enable storage of data in India and appointment of a grievance compliance officer in India. “I further asked the CEO of Whatsapp, Chris Daniels, to work closely with law enforcement agencies of India and create a public awareness campaign to prevent misuse of Whatsapp. He assured me that WhatsApp will undertake these initiatives,” tweeted IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad after his meeting with WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels on Tuesday.

Daniels is in India for four or five days, starting Tuesday, and will meet business and government officials during his visit.

The government has also sought a “technological solution” from the social media giant that will be effective in tracing the origin of fake messages which are being circulated across the country.

“I have said in the past that it does not take rocket science to locate a message being circulated in the hundreds and thousands…You must have a mechanism to find a solution,” said Prasad after the meeting. WhatsApp could face abetment charges if no action is taken, he added.

Over the last few months, there has been a spate of incidents of lynching in the country connected to fake messages on social media platforms, mainly WhatsApp. A number of murders has been reported from several states, including Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Prasad said WhatsApp had assured him that it will take steps on all the issues, including a massive awareness programme to be undertaken by the company, to help users identify fake news and hoaxes.

The IT ministry has already written twice to WhatsApp asking it to take necessary action to curb the spread of fake news. It has also warned the media giant that it cannot escape its responsibility for the rampant abuse, and it needs to find the originators of provocative messages.

Apart from running user education campaigns across all mediums of communication, including newspapers and radio, WhatsApp has launched a test to limit forwarded messages. Also, the quick forward button next to media messages has been disabled. On 3 July, the social media giant rolled out a new feature to clearly mark forwarded messages.

Last month, the IT ministry had raised concerns related to the rollout of WhatsApp Payments in India seeking clarity on whether the new UPI-based service conforms to the RBI’s security and privacy rules.

As of February 2017, there were more than 200 million monthly active WhatsApp users in India. It has more than 1.5 billion users across the world.