Government Requests WhatsApp for User Information to Combat Deepfakes; Company Expresses Concerns About Privacy Implications

Technology

As the 2024 Lok Sabha elections approach, the Indian government is contemplating the enforcement of a law that would require WhatsApp to disclose the details of the initial sender of messages

WhatsApp, a widely-used instant messaging application in India, serves as a daily communication tool for millions of people nationwide, connecting them with friends, family, and colleagues. However, it is no secret that WhatsApp can also be a medium for the dissemination of deepfakes and spam messages, particularly during election seasons. In anticipation of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Indian government is contemplating the implementation of a law that would compel WhatsApp to disclose the original senders of messages. This measure aims to combat the spread of deepfake content on the platform.

The government’s request for WhatsApp to reveal the identity of message originators primarily stems from the circulation of deepfake videos featuring politicians across the political spectrum. These manipulated videos, depicting politicians from various parties, have raised concerns about their potential impact on electoral integrity in India. As a response, the government is planning to issue ‘first originator’ notices to WhatsApp, invoking the Information Technology (IT) Rules of 2021.

The government asserts that this action will not disrupt the normal functioning of WhatsApp for regular users. Nevertheless, WhatsApp, a company owned by Meta, argues that this move could jeopardize user privacy, potentially leading to mass surveillance. In 2021, WhatsApp and Facebook had challenged a similar provision in the Delhi High Court on these grounds.

In addition to these developments, WhatsApp is reportedly working on a new feature to enhance user privacy. According to a report from Indian Express, WhatsApp may soon offer users the ability to conceal their IP addresses during calls, providing protection against malicious threat actors. While this feature is currently available to a select group of users on WhatsApp beta for Android and iOS, there are plans to make it accessible to all users in the future. The specific launch date for this feature remains undisclosed

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