Social Media

Start-ups body slams FB’s contract staff reviewing WhatsApp ‘reported’ chats

Debangana Ghosh Mumbai | Updated on September 10, 2021

Follows an expose by a New York investigative portal ProPublica

 

The Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF), which represents over 250 start-ups including Paytm, Sheroes, Goqii, and MapMyIndia, has come out strongly against the alleged practice of thousands of contract workers, better known as “content reviewers”, sitting in Facebook’s offices in the US, Ireland and Singapore poring over and moderating millions of pieces of users’ “reported” content on WhatsApp.

This came into light following a report published by a New York-based investigative news portal, ProPublica, on Tuesday, which said that WhatsApp has a dedicated team of outsourced content reviewers who can see and moderate messages, videos and images reported as improper by WhatsApp users.

The reviewers then respond to the messages possibly containing fraud, spam messages, child porn to terrorist plotting in less than a minute. They can read up to four previous messages from the one reported as problematic.

Sijo Kuruvilla George, Executive Director, ADIF, said: “Even if Facebook’s claim that it reads user’s WhatsApp messages only when spam or abuse is reported is true, it still does not address the underlying issue that users have been clearly misled to believe that the much-touted end-to-end encryption provides them with complete privacy. On every count, WhatsApp stands in clear violation of good faith and ethical principles.”

Faith & confidence

George said that a public account of the internal processes, the extent to which monitoring happens, and intimating users about the instances and chats that were accessed by the company and for what purpose would be a clear step in restoring faith and confidence. “Even in such a scenario, would WhatsApp commit enough marketing dollars to such a communication exercise is also anybody’s guess,” he added.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said, “WhatsApp provides a way for people to report spam or abuse, which includes sharing the most recent messages in a chat. This feature is important for preventing the worst abuse on the internet. We strongly disagree with the notion that accepting reports a user chooses to send us is incompatible with end-to-end encryption.”

“In India, in accordance with the Government’s IT Rules 2021, we also publish monthly reports that detail how WhatsApp keeps users safe and prevents abuse on the platform on the basis of user-reports. WhatsApp remains deeply committed to privacy and user-safety,” the spokesperson added.

ProPublica said: “We’ve altered language in the story to make clear that the company examines only messages from threads that have been reported by users as possibly abusive. It does not break end-to-end encryption.”

Published on September 09, 2021

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