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India Wants Telecom Operators To Be Able To Block Facebook, WhatsApp In Emergencies

The Indian government wants telecom operators to devise plans to block Facebook and WhatsApp, its messaging app, in the case there are misuses of these platforms.

According to a report in Reuters citing a document it viewed, in recent months India has been stepping up its crackdown on the mass forwards of messages that it claims people are using to spread rumors on social media. WhatsApp is a favorite of the regulators in India after fake messages were spread on the messaging app that resulted in the lynchings and mob beatings of people around the country. In July the Indian department of telecommunications requested telecom providers in the country as well as internet industry bodies “explore various possible options” to block the apps, reported Reuters. “You are … requested to explore various possible options and confirm how the Instagram/Facebook/Whatsapp/Telegram and such other mobile apps can be blocked on internet,” according to the government letter dated July 18 and seen by Reuters.

Meanwhile, a source within India’s department of telecommunications told Reuters the letter was crafted in an effort to find ways to block the apps when “emergency situations” occur, with the source arguing “there is a need for a reasonable good solution to protect national security.” The move could be a blow to WhatsApp, given India is its largest market with higher than 200 million users.

WhatsApp has already taken steps to prevent mass message forwards and has rolled out a campaign aimed at educating consumers, noted Reuters.  For instance, in July it said message forwards can be limited to five chats simultaneously and that it will remove the quick forward button.

At the same time that it is putting in more controls, WhatsApp launched a payments feature in India during the past several months which now has around a million users. According to a July report in Quartz, WhatsApp is in the process of fixing any issues with the payment feature and adding more functionality during beta testing of the service, which kicked off in February. The payment service is based on the Unified Payments Interface of the National Payments Corporation of India. By using that, WhatsApp eliminates the step of requiring a customer to load up a digital wallet. With its service, users can make payments directly from their bank accounts via a virtual ID, noted the report.

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