IT Rules 2021: WhatsApp CEO hopeful of finding solutions around traceability

The new intermediary rules mandate social media platforms to enable the identification of the first originator of the information in order to keep a check on the dissemination of fake news

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Mar 9, 2021 12:19 PM
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Ever since the government notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, there have been concerns about the impact this might have on user privacy.

The new intermediary rules mandate social media platforms to enable the identification of the first originator of the information in order to keep a check on the dissemination of fake news.

Speaking to Big Technology Podcast host Alex Kantrowitz, WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart has said that the platform has concerns about traceability. He also said that the platform has expressed its concerns to the Indian government and continues to explain those concerns.

"It hot off the presses, so we’re still digesting them and understanding what they actually mean, or don’t mean. For this concept of traceability, the problem is, today, we don’t keep a record of the messages that got sent all around WhatsApp. We get your message, and then we deliver it. And to keep a record, there’s this hard question of how you do it. How are you keeping a record on the server of messages that got sent around without knowing what the messages are? There’s no easy way to do that," said Cathcart.

"Or, how do you change WhatsApp and messaging apps so it’s included with the message? If I sent you a message and you forwarded on, should it say that it started from Will? Should you be able to easily forward on, “Well, Will sent this message to me,” and just send that on to everyone else? There’s privacy implications of that. So, we’ve been pretty opposed to it… We’ve been consistently opposed to it. There’s actually been an ongoing conversation in India and Brazil and some other places."

He also said that the platform is confident of addressing the concerns of the Indian government without breaking encryption.

"Our hope is that we can find a way to end up with solutions that don’t touch encryption. The core origin of this idea came out of concerns over misinformation. I mean, we share concerns over misinformation. Over the last couple of years, we’ve made a lot of changes to WhatsApp to stress the fact that we don’t want it to be a broadcast messaging platform, we don’t want this to be a platform where people go and get messages out to millions of people. And I know you’ve written about some of these changes in the past, but we made a bunch of changes to make WhatsApp more private."

Asked by Kantrowitz, if WhatsApp will break encryption or risk exiting the Indian market, Cathcart said, "Look, our track record on this, I think, speaks for itself, in that we’ve been willing to make some really hard calls to defend encryption. if you’re talking about break encryption, it’s really hard for me to imagine being comfortable with it. I mean, it’s hard for me to imagine even how you ask people to do that, I think it’s such a fundamental threat. So, we’ll stand and we’ll make our case, and we’ll argue. My hope is, here, we can find something that is not breaking encryption, that addresses the concerns that’s much more reasonable. That is a much more reasonable solution."

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