WhatsApp appoints grievance officer for India


TECHNOLOGY | September 23, 2018 (PTI):

Mobile messaging app Whatsapp has appointed a grievance officer for India and detailed out a process on its website for users to flag concerns and complaints, including those around fake news.

Meeting one of the key demands made by India to curb fake messages that triggered mob killings, the Facebook-owned company has updated its website to reflect the appointment of a 'Grievance Officer for India'.

The update mentions that users can seek help through the mobile app, send an email or write in to grievance officer Komal Lahiri, who is based out of the US.

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According to Lahiri's LinkedIn profile, she is the senior director, global customer operations and localisation, at WhatsApp.

A WhatsApp spokesperson declined to comment on the matter but pointed to the public FAQ on the company's website that contains these details.

According to sources, the appointment of the grievance officer was made at the end of August.

According to WhatsApp's website, users can reach out to the company's support team directly from the app under 'Settings' tab and if they wish to escalate the complaint, they can contact the grievance officer.

A section within the FAQs reads: "You (users) can contact the Grievance Officer with complaints or concerns, including the following: WhatsApp's Terms of Service; and Questions about your account."

The updated FAQs also listed out a mechanism for law enforcement officials on how to reach out to WhatsApp.

The government has been pressing WhatsApp to develop tools to combat fake or false messages.

India is WhatsApp's biggest market with more than 200 million users. In July, it limited message forwards to five chats at a time and removed the quick forward button to discourage mass forwarding. It has also introduced a 'forward' label to help users identify such messages.

The latest appointment is also significant as the Supreme Court last month agreed to examine a petition alleging that WhatsApp does not comply with Indian laws, including the provision for appointing a grievance officer. The apex court had sought a reply on the matter within four weeks.

With general elections slated for next year in India, the government is taking a tough stance on the spread of misinformation through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

The government had warned WhatsApp that it will treat the messaging platform as an abettor of rumour propagation while legal consequences will follow if adequate checks are not put in place.

In a meeting with WhatsApp Head Chris Daniels last month, information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted that the company will have to find a solution to track the origin of messages on its platform, set up a local corporate entity that is subject to Indian laws within a defined time frame as well as appoint a grievance officer.

WhatsApp, which has been slapped with two notices with the third one under consideration, has said it is in the process of establishing a local corporate entity.

It has, however, not accepted the government's demand for traceability of messages saying creating such a software will go against the idea of user privacy and end-to-end encryption.