Building traceability will undermine end-to-end encryption,says WhatsApp, even as India builds pressure on the Facebook-owned firm to curb spread of fake news.
The Hush Post: The California-based messaging platform WhatsApp in a statement has said that the firm would not weaken its privacy protections, in response to the Indian government’s request to help trace the origin of fake texts.
The Facebook-owned WhatsApp says creating a software to trace the origin of messages will go against the idea of user privacy and end-to-end encryption. Sources in the IT Ministry had told PTI that the government has asked the instant messaging app to continue looking for ways to continue exploring solutions to track the original sender of provocative and nefarious messages that result in violence and crime.
The face-off between Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp and the Central government continued on Thursday. After WhatsApp said it was not possible to trace the origin of a message on its platform, given its privacy settings, the government appeared unwilling to give in and, instead, sought “technical innovation” from the company to address the issue.
Earlier this week, Prasad also met WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels and requested him to devise ways to trace the origin of fake messages, set up a local corporate entity and appoint a grievance officer to address complaints to curb the spread of deadly rumours.
However, WhatsApp on Thursday said it cannot build software to trace the origin of a message. “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide,” said WhatsApp spokesperson Carl Woog. “People rely on WhatsApp for all kinds of sensitive conversations, including with their doctors, banks and families…Our focus remains working closer with others in India to educate people about misinformation and help keep people safe.”
The government also wants an assurance from WhatsApp on compliance with Indian laws, establishing a grievance cell, and an Indian corporate entity, which will be subject to Indian laws, within a defined time frame, said the government official mentioned above. On its part, apart from running user education campaigns in India, WhatsApp has capped the number of recipients of a chat message to five to curb mass spamming. Besides, the quick forward button next to media messages has also been disabled. On 3 July, the social media giant rolled out a new feature to clearly mark “forwarded” messages.
The Centre is also considering laws to increase the accountability of internet and social media companies and to ensure quick action to stop the spread of rumours, The Economic Times reported. “The stringent move will involve the notification of fresh clauses under existing intermediary guidelines under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act,” the report said, quoting a government official.
“We have noted the contents of the response from WhatsApp. While we appreciate some of the assurances given…WhatsApp should continue to explore technical innovations whereby, in case of large scale circulation of provocative and nefarious messages leading to violence and crime, the origin can be ascertained,” said a senior Information technology (IT) ministry official on Thursday, requesting anonymity.
“While WhatsApp might technically be able to trace a single hop of particular message using the timestamp, their encryption seems to prevents them from tracing message chains for messages without attached media. Requiring them to do so is exactly like the government asking Blackberry to decrypt messages they technically couldn’t. The government is just passing the buck,” said Pranesh Prakash, fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bengaluru-based think tank.