400 Million Social Media Users Set To Lose Anonymity in India!
According to the country's new rules for messaging apps and social media accounts, which are expected to be published this month, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok will have to reveal users' identities if asked by Indian government agencies.
Governments around the world are now becoming increasingly cautious about what is being posted on social media, and are trying to hold social media companies more accountable for what circulates on their platforms.
When India proposed these guidelines in Dec. 2018 and asked for public comment, the Internet and Mobile Association of India, a trade group that counts Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google among its members, responded that the requirements "would be a violation of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court."
Later this month, the new rules are expected to be published by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology without major changes.
"The guidelines for intermediaries are under process," Bloomberg quoted N.N. Kaul, the media adviser to the minister of electronics & information technology, as saying. "We cannot comment on the guidelines or changes till they are published."
In the earlier draft, the provisions had required platforms like Google's YouTube or ByteDance Inc. 's TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, to help the government trace a post's origin within just 72 hours of a request. To help government investigators, the companies were also required to preserve their records for at least 180 days.
They also had to establish a brick-and-mortar operation within India, and appoint a government liaison as well as a grievance officer to deal with user complaints.
The language and content are still being finalised by the Ministry.
With over five million users, all messaging and social media apps are covered by the rules.
In 2017 and 2018, a false report of rampant child abduction and organ harvesting circulated in India via WhatsApp led to mob violence and over three dozen lynchings.
WhatsApp, citing its promise of privacy to its Indian users, refused to reveal where the rumours originated from but instead offered to fund research into the prevention of the spread of fake news via social media. It also mounted a public education campaign in the country.
Mentioning that its global user base had reached more than two billion, WhatsApp said in a statement on February 12 that it will "not compromise on security because that would make people less safe."
It added: "For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry-leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy."
Tech companies and civil rights groups say that these new rules are a burden on new and growing companies and an invitation to abuse and censorship.
Executives from Mozilla Corp., GitHub Inc. and Cloudflare Inc. wrote an open letter to India's IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, saying the guidelines could lead to "automated censorship" and "increase surveillance". They claimed that platforms would have to surveil their users, undermine encryption, and harm the fundamental right to privacy of Indian users in a bid to trace the originator of the content.
These rules will apply only to social media platforms and messaging apps, and not browsers, operating systems, online repositories of knowledge, software development platforms. Companies like Mozilla or Wikipedia are also exempt.