WhatsApp is facing pressure in India to let authorities trace and read the encrypted messages of its more than 200 million Indian users in a new attempt at constraining global tech giants.
India’s telecommunications regulator has asked for feedback on new rules that—in the name of national security—could force “over the top” services such as WhatsApp, which use mobile operators’ infrastructure, to allow the government access to users’ messages.
At the same time India’s Information Technology Ministry has proposed new intermediary guidelines that would force WhatsApp and others to trace messages and remove objectionable content within 24 hours.
WhatsApp—which has more users in India than in any other country—has “pushed back on government attempts to ban or weaken end-to-end encryption and will continue to do so,” said a person familiar with the company’s thinking.
.. Technology companies argue that they are obligated to protect their customers’ privacy and that demands from investigators would be impossible to satisfy. They say the protection of communication platforms is key for freedom of speech and has helped the global internet to flourish by enabling commerce and communications.
.. “It’s entirely aimed at WhatsApp,” Neha Dharia, director of strategy at London-based research and consulting firm DMMI, said of the government’s moves. “They are the largest messaging service in the country, and growing.”
WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014 for $22 billion, has been increasing its efforts to produce revenue. India is where the company introduced its first mobile-payments feature, which it hopes to roll out beyond the test phase.
Legions of Indians have flocked to WhatsApp’s service because it allows easy smartphone messaging without a complicated sign-up process. Its popularity has put it squarely in the sights of regulators and critics who say it is being used to spread rumors that can spark violence. More than 20 people were killed last year on the back of rumors spread through WhatsApp. In response, the company introduced restrictions on the number of groups to which messages can be forwarded.In Vietnam, a new cybersecurity law which went into effect this year requires internet companies to quickly comply with government demands to remove content it doesn’t like.