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What do Meta’s New Safety Initiatives to Protect Women Really Mean for Women in India?

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Meta, formerly Facebook, announced a series of initiatives aimed at the protection of the women users on the company’s social media platforms. The initiatives include the launch of stopncii.org in India — a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII) and Safety Hub for Women that will enable more women users to access information about resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience. Meta has also appointed the first Indian members in the company’s Global Women’s Safety Expert Advisors.

“Safety is really core to our mission at Facebook,” Karuna Nain, Director of Global Safety Policy at Meta Platforms told reporters on Thursday, while announcing the initiatives. She further elaborated that the social media behemoth works to keep the platforms safe in three segments — by implementing clear policies, building cutting edge tools and technology, and by working with organisations on the frontlines on the issues around the world.

How does stopncci.org work?

According to Meta, Stopncci.org empowers victims who are concerned about their intimate images being abused, and gives them control over such content.

“If someone threatens you, you can report it so that we can take action on that content,” Nain said. Stopncci.org has been developed in partnership with the UK Revenge Porn Helpline and 50 other organisations around the world. Stopncci.org has been built with feedback from victims, victim advocates, and privacy and safety advocates.

What is striking though, is that despite the large number of teen users on Facebook and Instagram, stopncci.org is not accessible for users under the age of 18. If you are under 18 and want to register a case, the platform displays a message saying, “We are sorry, but we cannot help with your case,” and leads the user to a list of NGOs that can be contacted for help.

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Also, at this point the Stop NCII platform is available only in English, and Nain said that it would take a few months more before the platform supports Indian languages. Given the widespread use of Facebook in a number of Indian languages, this will limit the scope of its impact, something that has been seen in the past with the company’s efforts to combat misinformation as well.

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A safety hub for women

Women’s Safety Hub is a part of Meta’s Safety Centre. The Women’s Safety Hub is a centralised resource where the company tries to capture all the information that women would need to be able to navigate the social media platforms in a safe and secure manner so that they’d be empowered to know what tools they have at their disposal.

The Women’s Safety Hub contains information including Meta’s policies around different issues, tools, and on-demand training. The hub is available in 12 Indian languages including Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Gujarati, and Assamese, among others.

Meta has a Women’s Safety Experts Group in place, who the company consults on an ongoing basis regarding their policies, product, and resources that they should be offering on the platforms.

Bishakha Datta, Executive Editor, Point of View — a Mumbai-based non-profit and Jyoti Vadehra, Head of Media & Communications, Centre for Social Research — a Delhi-based advocacy group for women — are the first Indian members in Meta’s Global Women’s Safety Expert Advisors.

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The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programs to better support women on its apps.

Would women be safer on Meta’s social media platforms now?

Nain said that Meta has invested over $13 billion (roughly Rs. 97,640 crore) in tools and technology to keep the platforms safe and give people security since 2016 and are on track to spend more than $5 billion (roughly Rs. 37,555 crore) on safety and security in 2021.

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“Our commitment to making our platform safe and secure isn’t just something that we talk about. We put real investment behind these efforts. We have around 40,000 people who work on these efforts across the company.”

When asked about the specific initiatives the money was spent on by Meta, Nain only said that the money is being spent on, “…people who work on this space, the technology that we are building, for example, the initiatives that we will announce today or that would come as part of this.”

What do you do if someone is threatening to share your intimate images?

  1. Go to https://stopncii.org/
  2. Click on the Create Your Case button
  3. Confirm if you are 18 years or older
  4. Provide details about the image including who is in the picture by clicking on the drop-down list.
  5. Select the image(s)/video(s) on your device that you would like to protect
  6. A unique “hash,” or a digital fingerprint is generated and shared with the participating companies (Facebook and Instagram)
  7. Create a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to use to check your case status
  8. Check the box consenting to your hashes being shared with the participating companies.
  9. Click Submit.

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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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