WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels, who starts his second India visit in as many months today, has a lot on his plate. Apart from negotiating the current impasse over traceability on the mobile messaging platform, he hopes to promote the new WhatsApp Business app. But most importantly, he has announced the company's intentions to remain fully committed to end-to-end encryption.
"We want to keep WhatsApp the way it was built to be - a place for private conversations, like you have in your home," Daniels told The Economic Times, adding, "Privacy and security are true hallmarks of our product, and we have no plans to change these safeguards." According to him, fighting misinformation is a "societal challenge" that requires action from technology companies, civil society, government and the users alike. "It's important to understand that WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted and we do not know - and therefore cannot provide - the content or the originator of private messages. To do this, we would have to redesign our systems and revise our privacy standards to indiscriminately track user data. We think this is overly intrusive from a privacy perspective," he explained.
However, he added that the company had already held discussions with Indian law enforcement officials "this summer" on ways to source the "limited information" that WhatsApp collects for solving and preventing crimes. "We also recognize that relying on law enforcement isn't enough - whenever you introduce new technology, there needs to be broad education to explain how to stay safe," said Daniels adding that the company is "working with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to conduct digital literacy trainings across 15 states" and has launched large-scale public education campaigns with tips on how to spot false news.
On data localisation, Daniels pointed out that WhatsApp now stores the required payments data in India but underscored the need for Indian leaders to "ensure a level playing field and that companies operating in India receive equal treatment".
Last month, the company finally appointed Komal Lahiri as grievance officer for India, following a petition filed in the Supreme Court accusing it of not complying with Indian laws. And Daniels claims that a Head of WhatsApp India will be named by year-end, who will be empowered to grow a local team to serve the over 200 million Indian users. The company is reportedly also hiring locally for senior roles in the partnerships, operations, policy and legal teams.
Apart from scheduled meetings with IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and top officials of the Reserve Bank of India, Daniels told the daily that a key agenda is to explore how WhatsApp can support small Indian businesses, which he pegs at over 50 million. "An eyewear company in Bengaluru called Glassic told us that 30% of their new sales come from WhatsApp chats. We're announcing this week a project with Startup India where WhatsApp will directly support new Indian-owned businesses and entrepreneurs," he added.
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