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WhatsApp Says It Banned 2.069 Million Accounts in India in October, Received 248 User Ban Appeals

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WhatsApp banned over 2 million accounts in India in the month of October, the latest transparency report suggests. In accordance with the IT Rules 2021, WhatsApp has published the fifth monthly report for the month of October. The report details user complaints received and the corresponding action taken by WhatsApp, as well as WhatsApp’s own preventive actions to combat abuse on the platform. 18 accounts were actioned by WhatsApp based on user reports. Almost all of the 2.069 million accounts that were banned in October were tracked using WhatsApp’s own tools.

The latest WhatsApp India Monthly report under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 details the number of accounts ban in the month of October. A total of 500 grievances were received by users out of which 146 were related to account support, 248 were related to ban appeals, 53 were related to product support, 11 were related to safety, and the rest of the 42 were related to other support. Out of these, WhatsApp says that only 18 requests were actioned, all of which belonged to the ban appeal category. It is important to note that taking action denotes either banning an account or a previously banned account being restored as a result of the user complaint.

To send grievances to WhatsApp, users can email to grievance_officer_wa@support.whatsapp.com or send a letter to the India Grievance Officer via post. As mentioned, WhatsApp also has its own tools and resources deployed to stop abuse and other harmful activity. Most of the 2.069 million accounts banned in October were due to this abuse detection process.

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In September, WhatsApp claimed to have banned 2.209 million accounts in India. It received 309 ban appeals from users, out of which only 50 were actioned. Similarly, 2.07 million accounts were banned in August by using WhatsApp’s deployed tools to prevent abuse on the platform.

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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com. More

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WhatsApp ‘Delete for Everyone’ Feature Gets Extension to Over 2 Days

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WhatsApp ‘Delete for Everyone’ feature has got an extension. You can now delete your wrongly sent messages within a longer time frame — over two days — after transmitting it. Until now, the Meta-owned instant messaging platform allowed its users to delete a wrongly sent message within one hour, eight minutes, and 16 seconds’ time frame. The first mention of this extension was in February this year. The development comes as WhatsApp announced three new privacy features in order to provide a more secure conversation experience on the app.

WhatsApp shared a post on Twitter announcing that “you will have a little over 2 days to delete your messages from your chats after you hit send.” WhatsApp rolled out the over one-hour time limit to delete messages from the chat in 2018. The feature to delete messages for everyone in the chat originally had a time limit of seven minutes after hitting send. WABetainfo, a platform that tests WhatsApp features before they are released to the masses, replied to WhatsApp’s post on Twitter explicitly mentioning that the new time limit for “Delete Message for Everyone” is 2 hours and 12 hours.

In order to be able to delete messages within two days, you as well as all the recipients should have the latest version of WhatsApp. There is no clarification whether this feature is only available for Android or iOS users. However, it should be available to both WhatsApp for Android and WhatsApp for iOS. Deleting a message for everyone should be simple. You just need to tap and hold the message (image, video, or document) you want to remove, and tap Delete > select “Delete for everyone”.

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As mentioned, the development comes as WhatsApp introduced three new privacy features with an aim to provide more control over conversations and offer more privacy. These new features are: exit group chats without notifying everyone, control who can see when you’re online, and prevent screenshots on view once messages.

WhatsApp already provides other features such as default end-to-end protection for calls and messages, disappearing messages, end-to-end encrypted backups, 2-step verification, and the ability to block and report unwanted chats.

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Is India at Risk of Chinese-Style Surveillance Capitalism?: Andy Mukherjee

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After five years of negotiations involving the government, tech companies, and civil society activists, the world’s largest democracy is sending its debate on privacy back to the drawing board. The Indian government has junked the personal data protection bill, and decided to replace it with “a comprehensive legal framework.” If the current anarchy wasn’t bad enough, nobody knows what the revamped regime will contain — whether it it will put individuals first, like in Europe, or promote vested commercial and party-state interests, like in China.

Back in 2017, India’s liberals were hopeful. In July that year, New Delhi set up a panel under retired Justice B.N. Srikrishna to frame data protection norms. The very next month, the country’s Supreme Court held privacy to be a part of a constitutionally guaranteed right to life and liberty. But the optimism didn’t take long to fade. The law introduced in parliament in December 2019 gave the government unfettered access to personal data in the name of sovereignty and public order — a move that will “turn India into an Orwellian State,” Srikrishna cautioned.

Those fears are coming true even without a privacy law. Razorpay, a Bengaluru-based payment gateway, was compelled by the police recently to supply data on donors to Alt News, a fact-checking portal. Although the records were obtained legally — as part of an investigation against the website’s cofounder — there was no safeguard against their misuse. The risk that authorities could target opponents of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led to howls of protests about the stifling of dissent under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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The backdrop to India’s privacy debate has changed. Six years ago, mobile data was expensive, and most people — especially in villages — used feature phones. That’s no longer the case. By 2026, India will have 1 billion smartphone users, and the consumer digital economy is poised for a 10-fold surge in the current decade to $800 billion (roughly Rs. 63,71,600 crore). To get a loan from the private sector or a subsidy from the state, citizens now need to part with far too much personal data than in the past: Dodgy lending apps ask for access to entire lists of phone contacts. The Modi government manages the world’s largest repository of biometric information and has used it to distribute $300 billion (roughly Rs. 23,89,440 crore) in benefits directly to voters. Rapid digitization without a strong data protection framework is leaving the public vulnerable to exploitation.

Europe’s general data protection regulation isn’t perfect. But at least it holds natural persons to be the owners of their names, email addresses, location, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, biometric markers, and political opinion. Instead of following that approach, India sought to give the state an upper hand against both individuals and private-sector data collectors. Large global tech firms, such as Alphabet, Meta Platforms, and Amazon, were concerned about the now-dropped bill’s insistence on storing “critical” personal data only in India for national security reasons. Not only does localization get in the way of efficient cross-border data storage and processing, but as China has shown with Didi Global, it can also be weaponised. The ride-hailing app was forced to delist in the U.S. months after it went public there against Beijing’s wishes and eventually slapped with a $1.2 billion (roughly Rs. 9,550 crore) fine for data breaches that “severely affected national security.”

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Still, the scrapping of the Indian bill will bring little cheer to Big Tech if its replacement turns out to be even more draconian. Both Twitter and Meta’s WhatsApp have initiated legal proceedings against the Indian government — the former against “arbitrary” directions to block handles or take down content and the latter against demands to make encrypted messages traceable. The government’s power to impose fines of up to 4 percent of global revenue — as envisaged in the discarded data protection law — can come in handy to make tech firms fall in line; so it’s unlikely that New Delhi will dilute it in the new legislation.

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For individuals, the big risk is the authoritarian tilt in India’s politics. The revamped framework may accord even less protection to citizens from a Beijing-inspired mix of surveillance state and surveillance capitalism than the abandoned law. According to the government, it was the 81 amendments sought by a joint parliamentary panel that made the current bill untenable. One such demand was to exempt any government department from privacy regulations as long as New Delhi is satisfied and state agencies follow just, fair, reasonable and proportionate procedures. That’s too much of a carte blanche. To prove overreach, for instance in the Alt News donors case, citizens would have to mount expensive legal battles. But to what end? If the law doesn’t bat for the individual, courts will offer little help.

Minority groups in India have the most at stake. S. Q. Masood, an activist in the southern city of Hyderabad, sued the state of Telangana, after the police stopped him on the street during the COVID-19 lockdown, asked him to remove his mask and took a picture. “Being Muslim and having worked with minority groups that are frequently targeted by the police, I’m concerned that my photo could be matched wrongly and that I could be harassed,” Masood told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The zeal with which authorities are embracing technologies to profile individuals by pulling information scattered across databases shows a hankering for a Chinese-style system of command and control.

The abandoned Indian data protection legislation also wanted to allow voluntary verification of social-media users, ostensibly to check fake news. But as researchers at the Internet Freedom Foundation have pointed out, collection of identity documents by platforms like Facebook would leave users vulnerable to more sophisticated surveillance and commercial exploitation. Worse still, what starts out as voluntary may become mandatory if platforms start denying some services without identity checks, depriving whistleblowers and political dissidents of the right to anonymity. Since that wasn’t exactly a bug in the rejected law, expect it to be a feature of India’s upcoming privacy regime as well.

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© 2022 Bloomberg LP

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Snap Launches Parental Control Tool Family Center, Lets Parents Check Teens’ Contacts

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Snap, owner of the popular messaging app Snapchat, rolled out its first parental control tools on Tuesday, which will allow parents to see who their teens are talking to, but not the substance of their conversations.

The new feature called Family Center is launching at a time when social media companies have been criticised over a lack protection for kids. In October, Snap and its tech peers TikTok and YouTube testified before US lawmakers accusing the companies of exposing young users to bullying or steering them toward harmful content.

Instagram also testified in a Senate hearing in December over children’s online safety, after a Facebook whistleblower leaked internal documents that she said showed the app harmed some teens’ mental health and body image.

Parents can invite their teens to join Family Center on Snapchat, and once the teens consent, parents will be able to view their kids’ friends list and who they have messaged on the app in the past seven days. They can also confidentially report any concerning accounts.

However, parents will not be able to see private content or messages sent to and from their teens, said Jeremy Voss, Snap’s head of messaging products, in an interview.

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“It strikes the right approach for enhancing safety and well-being, while still protecting autonomy and privacy,” he said.

Snap said it plans to launch additional features in the coming months, including notifications to parents when their teen reports abuse from a user.

Prior to Family Center, Snap already had some teen protection policies in place. By default, profiles for Snapchat users under 18 are private, and they only show up as a suggested friend in search results when they have friends in common with another user. Users must be at least 13 years old to sign up.

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Snap’s new tools follow a similar move by Instagram, which launched its Family Center in March, allowing parents to view what accounts their teens follow and how much time they spend on the app.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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