Under pressure from the government to change the way it operates in the country, WhatsApp has agreed to meet all demands of the IT ministry, except adding a feature that could help trace origin of a message. The Facebook-owned messenger service is believed to have told the government that the company has no access to the user data (it’s encrypted end-to-end) and tampering with that will strike at its key feature — complete privacy to the user.
Experts say only a small fraction of the user data is temporarily cached to allow certain offline access and company stores no information on its servers. “The data is stored on users’ device. This (decryption) will require a fundamental change in the way not only WhatsApp but messaging services of Apple and Google too work,” said a senior executive at a technology company. Indian authorities were among a handful, who were demanding decryption.
WhatsApp has 1.5 billion active users and India is its largest market. It is looking at introducing new services such as a payment platform, using UPI or unified payment interface and a service for advertisers. The launch date for these services is yet to be finalised. WhatsApp has been at the centre of controversy after hate messages and rumours circulating on its platform triggered lynching in several parts of the country. That prompted the government to threaten action against the company that was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014. The tech giant, whose CEO Chris Daniels met IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday, has responded by adding several new features, including one that prominently identifies forwarded messages. Initial feedback suggests that the move has helped users take a more reasoned view on what to share.
During his interaction, Prasad had also asked for a compliance officer in the country along with a corporate entity, something that WhatsApp will comply with. The company has told the government that it is ready to work with regulators and law enforcement authorities to block sources that generate objectionable content.