Press Trust of india

GoI tells WhatsApp to trace origin of fake messages

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New Delhi, Aug 21: The government today asked WhatsApp to set up a local corporate entity and find a technology solution to trace the origin of fake messages circulated through its platform, which is facing flak for mass circulation of certain fake messages that have led to horrific crimes.

After his meeting with WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels here, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the messaging app has contributed significantly to India's digital story but it needs to find solutions to deal with "sinister developments" like mob-lynching and revenge porn.

In a stern warning, the government has also made it clear that WhatsApp could face abetment charges in case action is not taken to tackle circulation of fake messages.

Daniels declined to comment about his meeting with the minister.

Prasad said he has asked WhatsApp to set up a corporate entity in India, appoint a grievance officer and find a technical solution to trace the origin of fake messages on its platform.

"I flagged in particular, which I had said earlier also, it does not take rocket science to locate a message being circulated in hundreds and thousands... you must have a mechanism to find a solution," the minister told reporters.

While noting that WhatsApp could face abetment charges if no action is taken, Prasad said the company has assured that it is working towards complying with these points.

"I had a very productive meeting with Chris Daniels, the CEO of WhatsApp... there are also very sinister developments, which are provoking crimes like mob lynching, revenge porn. You (WhatsApp) must find solutions to these challenges which are downright criminal and violation of Indian laws," Prasad said.

Elaborating on the meeting, Prasad expressed happiness over Daniels saying that WhatsApp was working with law enforcement agencies and that it would organise a campaign to educate people in India on spread of misinformation through social media.

About WhatsApp's impending roll out of payments services, Prasad said the company has assured the government that it would comply with the stipulated rules.

"We said we have (drawn) attention of the RBI, namely (on) financial data being (stored) in India. The RBI is working on the guidelines and he (Daniels) has assured me, whatever guidelines RBI comes out with, he will comply with that," the minister said.

Daniels is also likely to meet various government officials and business executives during his visit this week as the company attempts to address concerns around fake news being circulated on its messaging platform which have led to horrific crimes like mob-lynching.

The government had sent two notices to WhatsApp, directing it to take urgent measures to curb spread of false information and rumours through its platform.

The IT Ministry had also warned that WhatsApp cannot escape its responsibility for such rampant abuse and needed to find originators of provocative messages. Besides, the company was told that in the absence of adequate checks, the government would treat the messaging platform as abettor of rumour propagation and legal consequences would follow.

In its response, WhatsApp informed the government that it is building a local team, including having an India head, and has introduced new features to let its users identify forwarded messages. WhatsApp has also restricted the number of forwards that can be done at a time.

Besides, the company is also running advocacy and education programme to help people spot fake news.

Last month, WhatsApp top executives, including COO Matthew Idema, met IT Secretary and other Indian government officials to outline various steps being taken by the company to tackle fake news in India.

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