Popular messaging app WhatsApp today said it is exploring ways to check spread of fake news through its platform. WhatsApp software engineer Alan Kao termed the situation as “complex” because of the end-to-end encryption of messages on the platform that does not allow anyone — except the sender and the receiver — to read the messages. “We definitely do not want to see fake news on our platform and it’s a complex problem in determining what is fake and what isn’t. Because of the encryption, we can’t read the contents of the messages,” Kao told reporters here. He added that the Facebook-owned company is looking at different ways in which they can tweak the product to “try and minimise” fake news.
There have been a number of instances, including rumours of the new currency notes featuring a GPS chip and videos related to Muzaffarnagar riots, that were circulated and shared virally on WhatsApp as many took them to be true. With over 200 million users, India is the largest market for WhatsApp that has about 1.3 billion users globally. Kao said WhatsApp is taking a number of steps, including educating users to explain that they should check authenticity of content before sharing it on the platform. Last month, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said instances of “objectionable videos” being shared through WhatsApp have been noticed. Since WhatsApp did not have content of the messages available with them, their ability to take action was limited, he had said.
WhatsApp does provide a feature to report objectionable content. A user can take screenshots and share it with appropriate law enforcement authorities, Prasad had said. In April last year, WhatsApp had introduced end-to-end encryption to protect conversations of its millions of users from hackers and “regimes”. Critics, however, contend that it also makes WhatsApp an ideal platform for spreading fake news, propaganda and objectionable content in the absence of oversight. There are also concerns that WhatsApp could be sharing user data with Facebook. Kao said WhatsApp values the trust of its users and the platform was built with “privacy and security in mind”. “Any change that would weaken the encryption will be detected very quickly. It’s impossible to make a secret backdoor. You cannot just create backdoor for just one party… Privacy will continue to be a key part of what we do,” he said.
On this issue, the central government had submitted in the Supreme Court in July that data of users was “integral” to the Right of Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed under the Constitution and that it would come out with regulations to protect it. The case will be up for hearing in September.