The IT Ministry Thursday wrote to WhatsApp over a recent report which claimed that the platform is being used to share child sexual abuse videos, and has asked the Facebook-owned company to take steps to prevent such misuse. The IT Ministry has sought WhatsApp’s response on its plans to tackle this issue, in line with the government’s push for initiatives to track bad elements and investigate crimes, a source privy to the development told PTI.
The ministry has written to WhatsApp, which counts India as one of its biggest markets, asserting that clear steps have to be taken to prevent such misuse on the platform. In response to an e-mail query, WhatsApp forwarded a link to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that stated that the platform has a zero-tolerance policy around child sexual abuse.
“We ban users from WhatsApp if we become aware they are sharing content that exploits or endangers children… WhatsApp employs a dedicated team that includes experts in law enforcement, online safety policy, and investigations to oversee these efforts,” it said.
Over the last three months, WhatsApp has banned about 250,000 accounts each month globally suspected of sharing child exploitative imagery, the site said. A WhatsApp spokesperson had previously stated that the company continues to prioritise requests from Indian law enforcement agencies that can help confront this challenge.
The ministry’s latest move came following a report that an investigation conducted by Cyber Peace Foundation allegedly found that chat groups on WhatsApp continue to be created and used to disseminate and share Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) in India. The report noted that while platforms are using sophisticated technology to weed out such content, “groups are still being created regularly and active solicitation is also happening”.
“Interesting to note that most of these groups have group icons that are obscene and sexual and don’t just show adults but children in sexually explicit activity directly. This presents potential for technical tools to identify and remove such groups,” the report by Cyber Peace Foundation claimed.
The report by Cyber Peace Foundation — which describes itself as a civil society organisation and think-tank of cyber security and policy experts — also alleged that there are “several groups that also solicit physical contact with both children and adults at a price with things like coverage areas, timing etc”.
WhatsApp — which has over 200 million users in India — had drawn flak over misinformation being spread through messages on its platform. Such fake messages and rumours had led to mob violence incidents across the country, prompting the government to seek message traceability. WhatsApp has, however, maintained that bringing such a feature would undermine privacy of users on its platform.