India’s top court has asked WhatsApp to respond to a petition, which puts the messaging app in breach of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which mandates an appointment of a Grievance officer for its users in India, according to local news reports.
The petition was brought to the court by a think-tank Centre For Accountability And Systemic Change and WhatsApp now has four weeks to respond to the court.
This latest headache adds to mounting pressure the service has faced in recent months in the country.
It also seems an avoidable error on WhatsApps behalf, especially as parent company Facebook and other tech giants have mostly complied with the laws in full.
Fake news and violence issues
Recently WhatsApp was used as a platform to spread fake news in India, which resulted in a spate of mob violence and two dozen deaths linked to those violent mob attacks.
In response and mounting pressure WhatsApp has already made unprecedented changes and limited users ability to forward messages as easily in July.
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On its corporate blog the service said: “We’re launching a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp. In India – where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world – we’ll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we’ll remove the quick forward button next to media messages.”
But many feel WhatsApp should be doing more, especially as more and more users come into contact with the technology for the first time in the developing world.
The Lokniti-CSDS Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey shows that the reach of WhatsApp has increased rapidly over the past couple of years in India. The MOTN survey conducted by Lokniti earlier this year had found that 24% of respondents used WhatsApp on a daily basis. Falling data costs has driven a surge in the Indian community making WhatsApp a prominent form of communication in the region.
But the growth in the share of active WhatsApp users has been sharper in rural India, doubling in a year’s time.
According to MarketLine, the Indian internet access market had total revenues of $49.3bnin 2017, expanding with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29% between 2013 and 2017. World Bank data supports this growth, showing that India’s internet access effectively doubled between 2013 and 2016 to 29.5%, the latest year figures were available.
How to stop the violence?
The latest compliance officer issue seems extremely petty as not much effort will be needed for WhatsApp to hire the grievance officer, however it does keep WhatsApp in the spotlight and continues to emphasise the services shortcomings in the country.
The whole point surrounding the privacy of WhatsApp users is the fact that messages on the app are encrypted. India’s further efforts to pressure the company to relax the encryption would simply undermine the private nature of WhatsApp. India is not alone in seeking to decrypt these services in national security matters, with the UK’s former home secretary Amber Rudd spending much of 2017 seeking ways to access user messages.
There is no doubt that WhatsApp has moral duty to help prevent more deaths in India and hopefully the forwarding limits will have some effect.
Additionally, WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels is said to have met India’s tech minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in New Delhi this week.. There has been no public statement on the meeting, but it is likely that the tension will have calmed due to the meet and we should see more security improvements from WhatsApp in the coming months. The appointment of a grievance officer should be little effort for WhatsApp to sort out.