This week’s events highlight the challenges facing Facebook (, )Twitter ( and )Google ( as they attempt to navigate an increasingly delicate Indian political landscape and deal with new regulations, which were due to go into effect on Wednesday. )
Indian police visited Twitter offices on Monday after calling a tweet from a senior ruling party official “manipulated media.” On Tuesday, WhatsApp sued the Indian government over the new rules. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration on Wednesday berated the Facebook-owned platform for its “clear act of defiance” when it comes to following “the law of the land”. And Thursday, Twitter said it was “concerned” about the safety of its employees in the country.
Modi’s government insists the new regulations are reasonable and will help protect national security, maintain public order and reduce crime by making it easier to identify sources of viral disinformation. Tech companies say the rules are incompatible with democratic principles.
This is just the latest battle in an increasingly contentious relationship between American tech companies and one of their biggest markets. India’s ruling party has stepped up its crackdown on social media and messaging apps this year, especially for a second The Covid-19 wave has engulfed the country.
Mass surveillance or national security
The new rules, released in February, call for companies to create special compliance officers in India. There are also requirements for the Services to remove certain content, including posts that feature “full or partial nudity”.
Additionally, tech platforms would have to track down the “first sender” of messages if authorities so demanded – a requirement that required WhatsApp to file its legal complaint against the government. The company said the request would break the platform’s “end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermine people’s right to privacy.”
A government “that chooses to make traceability mandatory is effectively imposing a new form of mass surveillance,” WhatsApp wrote in a blog post on why it opposes the practice.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has called the WhatsApp lawsuit an “unsuccessful attempt” to prevent the new rules from coming into effect at the last minute. The ministry said it respects the right to privacy and will only ask the platform to reveal private data if it is necessary for the investigation or prevention of “very serious crimes” related to sovereignty, to the security and integrity of India, to public order, to rape, to children’s sexuality. abuse or sexually explicit material.
He also said the Indian government is committed to ensuring the right to privacy of all citizens as well as the means to maintain national security.
“It is WhatsApp’s responsibility to find a technical solution, whether through encryption or otherwise, that both happen,” he added.
But privacy isn’t the only concern of social media companies. They are required to appoint a compliance officer, who can be held accountable in any proceedings if the reported content is not removed. WhatsApp and Twitter told CNN Business they find this requirement problematic.
Fears of censorship
Silicon Valley companies have also been asked to cut positions this year by Indian authorities. In April, the government asked Facebook and Twitter to delete around 100 posts, some of which criticized Modi’s response to Covid-19. In February, just weeks before the new social media rules were published, India pressured Twitter to remove accounts it deemed inflammatory.
Twitter said Thursday it was concerned about “the potential threat to free speech” in the country.
But with hundreds of millions of internet users and others logging on every day, India is too big a market for any tech company to ignore. While WhatsApp made the unusual move to sue authorities, Google and Twitter have signaled their willingness to engage with the government on most of the requirements of the new rules.
“This is obviously the start and our local teams are very committed… we always respect the local laws in each country in which we operate and we work constructively,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai told The Press on Wednesday. Trust of India. The company has yet to respond to a request for comment from CNN Business.
“We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government and believe it is essential to take a collaborative approach,” Twitter added in its statement Thursday.