Privacy can never be more important than safety, security of people. Big Tech cannot be allowed to hold a sovereign democracy to ransom
Wife sends an email to her husband. The email first reaches Google’s server at US & then redirected to husband’s email id. Before her husband, Google reads the mail. A mail is sent by one sitting in one room to another sitting in another, the mail travels room to room via USA. Where’s privacy? If we’re all sharing our data with Google, why not with our own Government, if required?
Keeping Big Tech in Check
- In February, Bharat introduced new rules to regulate social media content that would make Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter and others more accountable to legal requests to remove posts and identify original posters of certain messages
- Twitter and WhatsApp said the rules may potentially undermine some of the user rights that tech companies provide, such as end-to-end encryption
- Big Tech have invested billions of dollars over the years as they see India with over 600 million internet users as a key growth engine for the future
- Outsized influence of Tech Giants is a big concern for regulators around the world. From the United States to Europe and Australia, regulators are tightening the rules to keep Big Tech in check. Regulatory scrutiny has increased in recent years around data protection, privacy, election interference and disinformation
- The Centre had come down hard on Big Tech over a host of issues such as fake news, monopolistic practices
- New regulations propose to hold social media platforms more accountable to legal requests. They would be required to take down content the government deems “unlawful” while messaging service providers would be required to identify original originators of messages. WhatsApp contended that it would sound death knell to its USP— end-to-end encryption. But the Government has put its foot down
- Anti-competitive practices have brought Big Tech firms on Government’s firing line. They put Indian companies at a disadvantage
- Content moderation is another area of dispute. Twitter initially refused to take down certain kinds of content that the Indian Government believed threatened public safety
Similarly, WhatsApp claims their messages to be end-to-end encrypted. Doesn’t it retain a copy of the original message in their server? It’s likely they do. Else, how’d they share it with their parent company Facebook which they claim they’re committed to do? Whatever message ex-Mayor of Kolkata had sent to his lady love via WhatsApp, WhatsApp knows all those even if no one else. Where is privacy? Even deleted WhatsApp messages can be retrieved and read back installing particular software. How’d that be possible if original messages are not retained in the server?
Singapore’s Anti-Fake News Law
In 2019, Singapore passed a anti-fake news bill. The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act gives authorities sweeping powers to monitor and regulate online platforms and even private chat groups. The government can order platforms to remove what it deems to be false statements that are “against the public interest”, and to post corrections. According to Singapore authorities the law is aimed at protecting citizens from fake news. The law will not hamper free speech. According to authorities, it is aimed at tackling “falsehoods, bots, trolls, and fake accounts”.
Complying with new IT rules would take away WhatsApp’s business USP of ‘privacy’ and place the software on the same pedestal with similar other softwares. Moreover, the moment WhatsApp would lose its privacy factor, it would face steeper competition from other chat softwares
In reality, privacy doesn’t exist in Google era and big techs know that well. They also know how privacy is a soft-corner for most of the people in spite of having irresistible attraction towards accessing net-dependent services, entertainment and connectivity. Big techs know the psychological twist of common men. They know people’s attraction towards net-dependent services and social media platforms is more than their privacy need. However, before subscribing to net-dependent platforms, people tend to raise all concerns for breach of privacy. While people elucidate pro-privacy arguments before stepping into social media platforms, they remain grossly poised to use them. Big techs know mapping of customer behaviour and read between the lines of customers’ communications. Thus they marketed a social media platform for such privacy-conscious segment of people who needed some sort of believable assurance ruling out breach of privacy. They positioned WhatsApp in that segment and it well utilised the niche. WhatsApp was meant for those social media users who wanted privacy along with freedom of connectivity. Moreover, WhatsApp also offered features like sharing of photo, video, audio and Office Documents that dragged a larger user base for the software. WhatsApp sold the idea of end-to-end encryption to assure their users of privacy. They claimed messages sent via WhatsApp get converted into an encrypted code language (which is a dynamic process) within WhatsApp server and then gets redirected to the receiver wherein the encrypted message gets reconverted into the original language by WhatsApp software. Such a concept convinced large section of global mass and offered relief to that segment of the Social Media users who were poised to use social media but was simultaneously hesitant about privacy factor. However, since WhatsApp is committed to share all their messages with their parent company Facebook, it is technically and practically impossible for them not to have copies of original messages saved in their server. This means end-to-end encryption was never a full-proof protection of privacy. Moreover, as WhatsApp shares their data with Facebook, ethically and fundamentally they may not disagree to share it with Government of India, if asked for. A business organisation may not disagree to comply with the law of the land where they are in business. Even if fundamental policies of any business come in conflict against those of the Government, the business must accommodate in accordance with the legislative requirements of the Government if they want to continue in business.
Stifling Voice of Nation
In yet another incident that exposes Twitter’s double standards on the freedom of expression, Organiser Editor Prafulla Ketkar’s Twitter account was restricted for calling Purnea violence a ‘Jihadi attack on Hindus’. The organiser was the first news outfit to pick up the Purnea anti-Hindu riot and question the Islamists who were behind the attack, while other national media outlets were reluctant to share the news about this brutal Jihadi attack.
On the night of May 19, a Mahadalit colony in Majhwa village under Baisi police station of Bihar’s Purnea district was set on fire by a Muslim mob. Over a dozen Mahadalit houses were reduced to ashes in the horrific incident, after more than 200 Muslims from nearby villages, armed with weapons, surrounded the colony and set it on fire. About 60 families of Mahadalits reside in the area.
The mob brutally attacked the Dalits, who tried to stop them from carrying out the destruction. The Muslim mob dragged them out of their houses and brutally assaulted them with sharp weapons. An elderly retired watchman, Mewalal Rai (70), was brutally killed in the attack. The rampaging mob mercilessly assaulted pregnant lady Laxmi Devi. She sustained critical injuries on her head but managed to flee the spot. The area where this horrific incident occurred falls in Baisi Assembly constituency. The Baisi MLA is Syed Ruknuddin Ahmed from Asaduddin Owaisi- led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM). The Muslim party won 5 seats in the Bihar Assembly elections last year, all of them from the Seemanchal area.
EU’s Concerns Over Data Protection
In the wake of Cambridge Analytica-Facebook controversy in 2018, there were large-scale concerns over data protection. In a survey in 2019, 74 per cent of European citizens said they want to know how their data is used by social media platforms when they access other websites. Experts said that European Union wanted to regulate Big Tech to address privacy-related issues. It also wanted to address the impact of platforms on society and competition.
However, to comply with new rules of GOI’s IT Act, WhatsApp would certainly lose advantage of their niche positioning and promotional USP of promoting privacy through end-to-end encryption. Complying with new IT rules would take away WhatsApp’s business USP of ‘privacy’ and place the software on the same pedestal with similar other softwares. Moreover, the moment WhatsApp would lose its privacy factor, it would face steeper competition from other chat softwares. In fact, WhatsApp is already facing challenge from Telegram as the latter has ample features which WhatsApp do not have. Youth segmentis already shifting to Telegram causing headache to WA. This is the real reason why WhatsApp lodged a case against GOI with regards to new IT rules. As a business organisation they have every right to do that. However, privacy can never be more important than safety, security of people. Privacy is indispensable till everything is fine. However, when serious crimes like Delhi Riot takes place through private chatting channels & the inception point of the crime chain can’t be detected because of the privacy clause, then it becomes burdensome.
Twitter’s Bid to Get Around IT Laws
In response to a Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) directive to provide information about compliance with the new IT Rules, most major social media intermediaries have shared the details as required, except Twitter, which is yet to send in details about its chief compliance officer.
MeitY had written to all social media firms on May 26 to share their compliance status with the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. According to sources in the ministry, significant social media intermediaries like Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Koo, Sharechat, Telegram, and LinkedIn have shared details of their Chief Compliance Officer, Nodal Contact Person and Grievance Officer. “After a firm response from the government yesterday (May 25), Twitter sent a communication late last night, sharing details of a lawyer working in a law firm in India as their nodal contact person and grievance officer. The Rules require that these designated officers of the significant social media companies must be the employees of the company and resident in India. Twitter has not yet sent the details of the Chief Compliance Officer to the Ministry,” a Government official said.
But are there any WhatsApp user so naïve who have used the software truly believing that WhatsApp has not shared their messages with anyone and has kept their privacy intact?