The WhatsApp Inc. mobile-messaging application WhatsApp and the Facebook Inc. application are displayed along with other apps on an Apple Inc. iPhone in this arranged photograph taken in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

Tackle Fake News First, Payments Service Can Wait, India Tells WhatsApp

The Information Technology Ministry wants WhatsApp to prioritise curbing fake news on its platform over its plans to launch a payments service, according to a senior government official.

The official said WhatsApp's payment service matter had figured in the meeting on Monday between IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney and top WhatsApp executives, including Chief Operating Officer Matthew Idema. The meeting saw the executives outline steps initiated by the Facebook-owned company to combat circulation of fake messages, which has incited lynching incidents in several parts of the country.

The ministry is of the view that WhatApp needs to resolve on priority the overhanging issue of misinformation and take more steps to control the rampant abuse of its platform for circulation of fake messages. WhatsApp has been told that the fake news issue is far more important than other plans in the current circumstances, said the official, who was privy to the recent discussions.

WhatsApp didn't respond to an emailed query.

Also read: WhatsApp Testing A Feature To Mark Unusual Links As ‘Suspicious’

The official noted there are outstanding concerns over Whatsapp's proposed payment service plan, including how and where will the data of users be stored in the backdrop of central bank’s instructions mandating that data be stored in India.

The government wants greater clarity on how the storage issue is being handled by WhatsApp and these matters are under discussion, the official said, adding that detailed examination is required given that WhatsApp has a large user base in India.

India is the largest market for WhatsApp with the country accounting for over 200 million of its total 1.3 billion user base.

Despite the ongoing concerns, the IT Ministry remains keen on new technology and innovation coming in, the official said.

WhatsApp has already been served with two notices from the Indian government, asking it to come up with effective solutions to curb the menace of fake news beyond just labelling “forwards”.

It also warned the company media used for propagation of rumours are liable to be treated as "abettors" and can face legal consequences if they remain "mute spectators".

WhatsApp had responded to the first notice but is yet to send in a response to the second one.

Also read: Lynch Mobs Are India’s Problem, Not WhatsApp’s