Facebook-owned WhatsApp is one of the prime targets these days for spreading fake news. Here is what the company is doing to stop it. But will it be easy?
Facebook-owned WhatsApp is one of the prime targets these days for spreading fake news. However, the popular messaging app has said that it is exploring ways to check the spread of fake news through its platform. From videos circulating during Muzaffarnagar riots to GPS enabled currency after demonetisation, Indians have witnessed various forms of fake news on the WhatsApp platform. WhatsApp has said that it is searching for various ways in which the product can be tweaked, only to minimise fake news. But curbing something on WhatsApp is a complex mechanism, and even Alan Kao, a software engineer from the company agrees. This is due to the fact the messages on the app are end-to-end encrypted. This means that any message that you send on your device is known to you and the receiver only, not even WhatsApp has any idea.
India is the largest market for WhatsApp, as it constitutes more than 200 million users from a total of 1.3 billion all over the world. Kao was in New Delhi, where he said, “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,” PTI reported. He said that many steps are being taken towards this goal, and it includes raising awareness about people checking for the authenticity of content before sharing anything on WhatsApp.
Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in July, had shared his thoughts on “objectionable videos” being shared through WhatsApp. Even he said that WhatsApp did not have content of the messages available to them, their ability to take action was limited. The messaging app, in April 2016, had brought the end-to-end encryption feature on the app. The protection of content made it a really popular feature to have in this current world of elevated cyber crimes. However, a minor loophole has resulted in the spread of fake news. WhatsApp has become an ideal platform to spread propaganda and other objectionable things. And WhatsApp has absolutely no control on this, as of now. Meanwhile, Prasad said that there is an option to report objectionable content and you can also click screenshots and give it to the law enforcement.
Meanwhile, there is an additional concern over WhatsApp sharing its data with its parent company Facebook. However, Kao said WhatsApp values the trust of its users and the platform was built with “privacy and security in mind”. Explaining the mechanism of the end-to-end encryption, Kao said WhatsApp does not store any message on its server and only the sender and receiver can see the message. He added, “Any change that would weaken the encryption will be detected very quickly. It’s impossible to make a secret backdoor. You cannot just create back door for just one party… Privacy will continue to be a key part of what we do.”
Interestingly, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court, which said that personal data was shared and other data were collected by WhatsApp for commercial purposes, despite the encryption. The government had said that user 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 hearing of this case is scheduled for September.