Our service has been abused: WhatsApp com head

Chennai: Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp has said there are instances of the platform being abused by political parties and it has been engaging with them to emphasise that the misuse will lead to banning of such accounts.

“We have seen a number of parties attempt to use Whatsapp in a way that was not intended and our firm message to them is using it in that way will result in bans of our service,” head of Communications, WhatsApp, Carl Woog said about the firm’s engagement with Indian political parties.

“We are trying to be very clear going into elections that there is abuse of WhatsApp and we are very working very hard to identify and prevent it as soon as possible,” he said.

With general elections slated to be held in the coming months, the government had warned social media platforms of strong action if any attempt was made to influence the country’s electoral process through undesirable means.

The government recently also proposed to amend IT rules, wherein social media, online platforms and messaging apps will be required to deploy tools to ‘identify’ and curb unlawful content as well as follow stricter due diligence practices.

“We have had effort for the last several months where we have engaged with political parties to explain our firm view that WhatsApp is not a broadcast platform and is not a place to send messages at scale. And to explain to them that we will be banning accounts that engage in automated robotic behaviour and we do this regardless of the purpose of your account,” Woog said.

He said WhatsApp maintains that it is a platform for private communications and bans phone numbers that are associated with abnormal messages or communication trend. WhatsApp, however, expressed concern on proposed amendment in Indian intermediary rules targeted at social media platforms.

“We read submissions that many eloquent experts here in India have filed to the government over the last several days and we agree with them that proposed changes are over broad and are not consistent with strong privacy protection that are important to people everywhere not just in India but around the world. What is contemplated by the rules is not possible today,” Woog said.

He said the company is creating space for private conversations online and proposed rules, if implemented, will require WhatsApp to re-architect the app leading to a different product “one that will not be fundamentally private”.

WhatsApp is used by over 1.5 billion people across the globe and according to industry estimates, it is now Facebook’’s most popular service.

Automated fake accounts and people who seek to create havoc are barred from the platform at various stages -— at the time of registration, while messaging, and when they are reported by others, the company’’s executives said. Overall, WhatsApp bans about two million accounts on its platform each month, said Matt Jones, a software engineer at the firm.

To address this issue, a machine learning system uses learnings from the company’’s past dealings with problematic accounts and from specific scenarios engineers followed when taking down accounts, he said.

This machine learning system has reached a level of sophistication that allows it to ban 20 per cent of bad accounts at the time of registration, according to the company.

Seventy-five per cent of the two million accounts WhatsApp bans in a month are handled without human intervention, the firm has said.

NT Bureau