SFLC.in — a donor supported legal services organisation — has written an open letter to messaging service providers like WhatsApp, Facebook and others, urging them to modify their platforms to ensure that users are not added to group chats without their permission.
In its letter, Software Freedom Law Centre, India (SFLC.in) said any user with administrator rights can currently add another person to the group without the latter’s permission.
In the absence of a mechanism to prevent themselves from being added to groups that they would not like to participate in, users have no option but to manually exit the groups.
“This is a troubling state of affairs because users may be forcefully exposed to a range of subjectively undesirable content that they would never have signed up for otherwise, which can be particularly damaging, especially in situations where malicious actors attempt to intimidate, disparage, harass or harm individuals in any way,” the letter said.
The letter has also been co-signed by Digital Empowerment Foundation, Centre for Internet and Society and a few others.
Emails sent to Facebook, Tencent and others seeking their comments did not elicit any response.
SFLC.in argued that the current format is an issue for many, including those belonging to minority and vulnerable groups.
“While blocking malicious actors can usually help mitigate the damage to an extent, on online messaging services like yours, they are able to easily circumvent blocks by creating groups and adding their targets to these groups,” it said.
The problem is only made worse when personal information like phone numbers, user IDs and photographs are shared with a large number of users, which could open the doors to even greater abuse, it added.
SFLC.in argued that there are no adequate safeguards to prevent infringement of user rights and therefore, these platforms should take immediate steps to address this issue.
“…implement measures to make it so that being added to group conversations without permission is no longer a possibility. Not only will this greatly help in limiting abusive uses of your services, but it will also make users less wary of using the services, making the Internet a safer space for us all,” it added.