Messaging app WhatsApp is in news for all the wrong reasons for quite some time. From combating fake news to launching its payments service, the company has constantly come under scanner for failing to comply with the Indian laws. On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the company and the government, asking why WhatsApp has not yet appointed a grievance officer in India. This may spell trouble for the Facebook-owned company, which has big plans for India — its biggest market in terms of the customer base.
A Supreme Court bench under Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Indu Malhotra asked all the stakeholders — WhatsApp, Law and Justice Ministry, Finance Ministry and IT Ministry — to reply in the next four weeks.
SC asks WhatsApp why it hasn’t appointed grievance officer in India
Interestingly, other foreign players like Facebook, Google, etc, have already hired their grievance executives for India. Google has hired a grievance professional for its payments service Google Tez too. During a meeting on August 21, Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had asked WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels to comply with certain guidelines to minimise the spread of fake news. He said the company must have a local grievance officer in India and a system to trace the origin of fake messages. However, in a later response, the company said it can’t trace the origin of a chat due to the end-to-end encryption system and the private nature of the platform.
During an SC hearing on Monday, petitioner advocate Virag Gupta, who was appearing for the Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change, said the company should not be allowed to run its payments service unless it hires a grievance authority who can address customers’ issues and coordinate with the investigating authorities. He said the platform does not even fulfil the ‘Know Your Customer’ norms mandated by the government for data and online payment companies.
In the past three months, India has seen 39 incidents of lynching due to mass misinformation spread on WhatsApp. The government has also come under intense pressure to take steps to stop such incidents from happening. It has now asked WhatsApp to address three major concerns — hire a grievance officer in India, set up a data storage facility, and proper compliance of Indian laws. The company has assured the government it will address all major concerns. To curb fake news spread, WhatsApp recently rolled out the limited’forward message’ option for India, which restricts a forward message to just five users.