Anonymity on the internet is something governments absolutely hate – and the government of India is no exception. India’s Ministry of Electronics & IT pretty much demanded that WhatsApp bring traceability to its platform, to allow false information and fake news to be traced back to its source. The Ministry even suggested that WhatsApp would face legal actions if the platform did not comply.
WhatsApp has taken up the position that doing so would undermine their core value of protecting user privacy, and has no plans to comply with the demands:
We remain deeply committed to people’s privacy and security, which is why we will continue to maintain end-to-end encryption for all of our users”
The Ministry of Electronics & IT in India put out the following statement regarding the matter:
“There is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability when a provocative/inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies,” the government said Friday. “When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.”
While WhatsApp is used around the globe, its largest concentration of users is in India, where more than 250 million users are using the messaging platform. Unfortunately, a series of hoax messages, videos, and fake news has caused riots in India, with over two dozen lives lost during these riots.
The problem with the India government’s proposal (demand) is that bringing “traceability” to the WhatsApp platform entails breaking the platform’s end-to-end encryption, which would nearly eliminate user-privacy, allowing governments to read through entire user conversations in worst-case scenarios.
It’s unknown exactly how much access India’s government is seeking – whether it be simple investigative tools, with WhatsApp giving them information from their end, or something far more powerful like keyword filtering through entire conversation logs. The latter, of course, would equate to zero user-privacy. WhatsApp, in fact, does not even store user conversations on their servers, everything is stored locally on the user’s device.
WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, and Facebook has been receiving its own share of flogging by governments around the world, for how much fake news is on the website. The approach Facebook is using to combat fake news cannot be applied to WhatsApp however, as Facebook users generally share their status updates with the entire world, making it far easier to comb through user posts for fake news.
At the end of the day, fake news is certainly a concern, but what is more alarming is how many people believe anything they read on the internet. Perhaps, instead of witch-hunting social media platforms, governments should focus on educating their populace on how to double-check information.