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WhatsApp trouble in India

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With a passion for politics and a love for writing, Avery is a contributor at the Red Blue Divide — a website devoted to informing, engaging, and inspiring political debate. Her only vice in life, a ridiculous amount of coffee — black.

Facebook has been in some hot water recently over its security concerns. While Facebook seems to be facing these concerns from a variety of different angles, one of the most prominent of these issues that Facebook has had to deal with has been the spread of fake news and dangerous content from dangerous entities such as ISIS and Russian hackers.

In India, the Facebook-owned messenger WhatsApp has been facing scrutiny just like its parent company over the spread of dangerous, hateful, and abusive content. With India’s upcoming elections, the largest elections in the world, there’s been a collective push by Indian newspapers, politicians, and regulators for Facebook to address these concerns regarding WhatsApp.

Carl Woog, a representative for WhatsApp, told journalists in New Delhi the WhatsApp team, “Saw how parties tried to reach people over WhatsApp, and in some cases that involved attempting to use WhatsApp in a way that it was not intended to be used,” regarding the Indian elections.

WhatsApp is currently used by about 200 million Indians daily, but the ramifications of misinformation spread on the platform during an election cycle could very well affect the entire country. Roughly 2 million fake accounts are deleted by WhatsApp on its platforms monthly, but the efforts haven’t been enough to appease India’s politicians regarding the matter.

Indian lawmakers have asked that WhatsApp increase the regulatory efforts and eliminate any content that violates Indian law within 24 hours of its posting. WhatsApp representatives responded that such actions are “not possible today, given the end-to-end encryption that we provide, and it would require us to re-architect WhatsApp, leading to a different product.”

Fundamentally, WhatsApp is a messaging application that uses advanced encryption technologies to make the messages sent on the app extremely secure and prevents external tampering with the information sent on the app. This encryption, to a large extent, even limits WhatsApp’s own abilities to regulate the content that is propagated on the app.

While this adds a large degree of privacy and security to common users, it also provides the same to abusers of the app that seeks to spread misinformation and, in India’s case, undermine the election. While WhatsApp has agreed to increase its efforts to combat the issue, it hasn’t stated that it’s willing to alter its encryption system to accommodate India’s concerns. In fact, the company has stated quite the opposite, arguing that such a move would ruin the product.

This is not the first time that WhatsApp has run into serious problems regarding the content on its platform. Particularly in the UK, authorities have found prolific use of WhatsApp amongst terrorists and radicals alike. Unlike other messengers that are strictly controlled by the company, one of the main selling points of WhatsApp is that the messages are completely secure and even the company itself can’t fully know what is being sent on the application.

Ultimately, the question will come down to whether or not a brewing scandal in India will hurt WhatsApp’s bottom line. If there is enough social and political backlash that the Indian population drastically decreases its use of WhatsApp, surely the company will adjust its encryption policies. If that does not happen, then WhatsApp will proceed to carry on its operations like business as usual.

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With a passion for politics and a love for writing, Avery is a contributor at the Red Blue Divide — a website devoted to informing, engaging, and inspiring political debate. Her only vice in life, a ridiculous amount of coffee — black.

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