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WhatsApp, Facebook Monetise Users’ Data, Can’t Claim Privacy Protection on Their Behalf, Says Government

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 23 October 2021

The Centre has defended in the Delhi High Court the legal validity of its new IT rule requiring messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, to “trace” the first originator of the information, saying that the law empowers it to expect such entities to create safe cyberspace and counter illegal content either themselves or by assisting the law enforcement agencies.

The Centre said that Section 87 of the Information Technology Act gave it the power to formulate Rule 4(2) of the Intermediary Rules – which mandates a significant social media intermediary to enable the identification of the first originator of information in “legitimate state interest” of curbing the menace of fake news and offences concerning national security and public order as well as women and children.

In its affidavit filed in response to WhatsApp’s challenge to the rule on the ground that breaking the encryption invades its users’ privacy, the Centre has claimed that platforms “monetise users’ information for business/ commercial purposes are not legally entitled to claim that it protects privacy”.

“Petitioners (WhatsApp and Facebook), being multi-billion dollar enterprises, almost singularly on the basis of mining, owning and storing the private data of natural persons across the world and thereafter monetising the same, cannot claim any representative privacy right on behalf of the natural persons using the platform,” said the affidavit filed by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

“WhatsApp collects users’ personal information and shares it with Facebook and third-party entities for business/commercial purposes (WhatsApp’s privacy policy of 2016 and its 2021 update). In fact, the regulators of various countries dearly hold that Facebook should be fixed with accountability for its services and data management practices,” it added.

The Centre said reasons regarding technical difficulties cannot be an excuse to refuse compliance to the law of the land and if a platform does not have the means to trace the “first originator” without breaking the encryption then it is the platform which “ought to develop such mechanism” in larger public duty.

“The Rule does not contemplate the platforms breaking the end-to-end encryption. The Rule only contemplates the platform to provide the details of the first originator by any means or mechanism available with the platform. If the platform does not have such means, the platform ought to develop such mechanism considering the platforms widespread prevalence and the larger public duty,” the affidavit said.

The Centre said “if the intermediary is not able to prevent or detect the criminal activities happening on its platform, then the problem lies in the platform’s architecture and the platform must rectify their architecture and not expect the change of legislation. Reasons regarding ‘technical difficulties’ cannot be an excuse to refuse compliance to the law of the land.”

In August, a bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel had sought the Centre’s stand on WhatsApp petition challenging new rule on the ground it violates the right to privacy and is unconstitutional.
WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook has also mounted a similar challenge to the rule.

In its plea, WhatsApp had said that the traceability requirement forced it “break end-to-end encryption” and thus infringe upon the fundamental rights to privacy and free speech of the hundreds of millions of citizens using its platform to communicate privately and securely.

The Centre, in its response, has said that the petition by WhatsApp is not maintainable as a challenge to the constitutionality of any Indian law is not maintainable at the instance of a foreign commercial entity.

It further claimed that Rule 4(2) is an “embodiment of competing rights of citizens of India” and aims to preserve the “rights of vulnerable citizens within the cyberspace who can be or are victims of cyber-crime”.

The Centre said there are checks and balances to ensure that the rule is not misused or invoked in cases where other less intrusive means are effective in identifying the originator of the information.

The identification of the first originator pertains only to viral content relating to heinous crimes, as specified in the rule, and not identifying all users or citizens, it said.

“If the IT Rules 2021 are not implemented the law enforcement agencies will have difficulty in tracing the origin of fake messages and such messages will percolate in other platforms thereby disturbing peace and harmony in the society further leading to public order issues,” the affidavit said.

The Centre has also said that in case of any legal proceeding having any message on the platform as evidence, WhatsApp would lose the defence of ‘intermediary protection’ but it “does not mean that WhatsApp will be held guilty and its officials would be legally responsible”.

“The courts can include WhatsApp as a respondent and consider ‘Contributory Negligence’ and ‘Vicarious liability on WhatsApp and its executives’ (under Section 85). Such liabilities will fructify only when such a case comes up and WhatsApp is named as an entity that it is sufficiently proved that it has contributed to the commission of the crime,” it added.

The centre also said that the Supreme Court itself had asked the Central government to “take all the steps necessary to identify persons who create and circulate electronic information” about certain offences such as sexual abuse.

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Meta Sued for $150 Billion by Rohingya Refugees Over Myanmar Violence

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 December 2021

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are suing Meta, formerly known as Facebook, for $150 billion (roughly Rs. 11,31,300 crore) over allegations that the social media company did not take action against anti-Rohingya hate speech that contributed to violence.

A US class-action complaint, filed in California on Monday by law firms Edelson PC and Fields PLLC, argues that the company’s failures to police content and its platform’s design contributed to real-world violence faced by the Rohingya community.

In a coordinated action, British lawyers also submitted a letter of notice to Facebook’s London office.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment about the lawsuit. The company has said it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar and has said it has since taken steps to crack down on platform abuses in the region, including banning the military from Facebook and Instagram after the February 1 coup.

Facebook has said it is protected from liability over content posted by users by a US Internet law known as Section 230, which holds that online platforms are not liable for content posted by third parties. The complaint says it seeks to apply Myanmar law to the claims if Section 230 is raised as a defense.

Although US courts can apply foreign law to cases where the alleged harms and activity by companies took place in other countries, two legal experts interviewed by Reuters said they did not know of a successful precedent for foreign law being invoked in lawsuits against social media companies where Section 230 protections could apply.

Anupam Chander, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said that invoking Myanmar law wasn’t “inappropriate.” But he predicted that “it’s unlikely to be successful,” saying that “it would be odd for Congress to have foreclosed actions under US law but permitted them to proceed under foreign law.”

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said included mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.

Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.

A Myanmar junta spokesman did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on the legal action against Facebook.

In 2018, UN human rights investigators said the use of Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fuelled the violence. A Reuters investigation that year, cited in the US complaint, found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comments and images attacking the Rohingya and other Muslims on Facebook.

The International Criminal Court has opened a case into the accusations of crimes in the region. In September, a US federal judge ordered Facebook to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down.

The new class-action lawsuit references claims by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked a cache of internal documents this year, that the company does not police abusive content in countries where such speech is likely to cause the most harm.

The complaint also cites recent media reports, including a Reuters report last month, that Myanmar’s military was using fake social media accounts to engage in what is widely referred to in the military as “information combat.”

Mohammed Taher, a refugee living in the sprawling Bangladesh camps that are home to more than a million Rohingya, said Facebook had been widely used to spread anti-Rohingya propaganda. “We welcome the move,” he said by phone.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Owner Meta Launches New Platform, Safety Hub to Protect Women in India

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 3 December 2021

Meta (formerly Facebook) on Thursday announced a slew of steps to protect woman users on its platform, including the launch of StopNCII.org in India that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

Meta has also launched the Women’s Safety Hub, which will be available in Hindi and 11 other Indian languages, that will enable more women users in India to access information about tools and resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience, while staying safe online.

This initiative by Meta will ensure women do not face a language barrier in accessing information Karuna Nain, director (global safety policy) at Meta Platforms, told reporters here.

“Safety is an integral part of Meta’s commitment to building and offering a safe online experience across the platforms and over the years the company has introduced several industry leading initiatives to protect users online.

“Furthering our effort to bolster the safety of users, we are bringing in a number of initiatives to ensure online safety of women on our platforms,” she added.

StopNCII.org is a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

“It gives victims control. People can come to this platform proactively, hash their intimate videos and images, share their hashes back with the platform and participating companies,” Nain said.

She explained that the platform doesn’t receive any photos and videos, and instead what they get is the hash or unique digital fingerprint/unique identifier that tells the company that this is a known piece of content that is violating. “We can proactively keep a lookout for that content on our platforms and once it”s uploaded, our review team check what”s really going on and take appropriate action if it violates our policies,” she added.

In partnership with UK Revenge Porn Helpline, StopNCII.org builds on Meta’s NCII Pilot, an emergency programme that allows potential victims to proactively hash their intimate images so they can”t be proliferated on its platforms.

The first-of-its-kind platform, has partnered with global organisations to support the victims of NCII. In India, the platform has partnered with organisations such as Social Media Matters, Centre for Social Research, and Red Dot Foundation.

Nain added that the company is hopeful that this becomes an industrywide initiative, so that victims can just come to this one central place to get help and support and not have to go to each and every tech platform, one by one to get help and support.

Also, Bishakha Datta (executive editor of Point of View) and Jyoti Vadehra from Centre for Social Research are the first Indian members in Meta”s Global Women”s Safety Expert Advisors. The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programmes to better support women on its apps.

“We are confident that with our ever-growing safety measures, women will be able to enjoy a social experience which will enable them to learn, engage and grow without any challenges.

“India is an important market for us and bringing Bishakha and Jyoti onboard to our Women”s Safety Expert Advisory Group will go a long way in further enhancing our efforts to make our platforms safer for women in India,” Nain said.

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Facebook, Instagram Remove Chinese Accounts Over Fake ‘Swiss Biologist’ COVID-19 Origin Claims

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2021

Facebook owner Meta Platforms said on Wednesday it had removed accounts used by an influence operation originating in China that promoted claims of a fake “Swiss biologist” saying the United States was interfering in the search for COVID-19’s origins.

Meta said in a report the social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful” and targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States and Britain and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet.

Claims by “Swiss biologist” Wilson Edwards were widely quoted by Chinese state media in July. In August, several Chinese newspapers removed comments and deleted articles quoting him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing said it had found no evidence of him as a Swiss citizen.

Meta said Facebook removed the Wilson Edwards account in August and has since removed 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Pages, four Groups and 86 Instagram accounts as part of its investigation. Such removals also take down content that these entities have posted.

“We…were able to link the activity to individuals in mainland China, including employees of a particular company in China, the Sichuan Silence Information Technology Company Limited, as well as some individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies around the world,” Meta’s head of global threat disruption David Agranovich told Reuters.

Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese foreign ministry and internet regulator Cyberspace Administration of China also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meta said it had not found any connection between Sichuan Silence Information Technology and the Chinese government.

Silence Information’s website describes itself as a network and information security company that provides network security services to China’s Ministry of Public Security activities and China’s CNCERT, the key coordination team for China’s cybersecurity emergency response.

On July 24, 10 hours after its creation, the “Wilson Edwards” Facebook account uploaded a post saying he had been informed the United States was seeking to discredit the qualifications of World Health Organization scientists working with China to probe the origins of COVID-19.

Meta said the account’s operators used virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure to conceal its origin and made efforts to give Edwards a rounded personality.

The persona’s original post was initially shared and liked by fake Facebook accounts, and later forwarded by authentic users, most of which belonged to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies in over 20 countries, Meta said.

“This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” the report said. Meta said it did not find evidence that the network gained any traction among authentic communities.

China’s state-run media, from China Daily to TV news service CGTN, cited the July post widely as evidence that US President Joe Biden’s administration was politicising the WHO. The administration had said the joint WHO-China investigation lacked transparency.

The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 remains a mystery and a source of tension between China, the United States and other countries.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Jack Dorsey-Led Square Rebrands to Block After Facebook’s Meta Change

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2021

Square, the payments company led by Twitter Inc co-founder Jack Dorsey, said on Wednesday it was changing its name to Block Inc, as it looks to expand beyond its payment business and into new technologies like blockchain.

The San Francisco-based company said the name Square had become synonymous with it’s seller business. The new name would distinguish the corporate entity from its businesses, Square added, a strategy similar to Meta Platforms’s rebrand last month.

The company said there would be no organisational changes and its different business units – Square, peer-to-peer payment service Cash App, music streaming service Tidal and its bitcoin-focused financial services segment – will continue to maintain their respective brands. Shares were up nearly 1 percent in extended trading.

“The name has many associated meanings for the company — building blocks, neighbourhood blocks, and their local businesses, communities coming together at block parties full of music, a blockchain, a section of code, and obstacles to overcome,” Square said in a statement.

The move comes days after Dorsey stepped down from his role as chief executive officer at Twitter. The digital payments giant’s Square Crypto, a team “dedicated to advancing Bitcoin”, will also change its name to Spiral. Bitcoin price in India stood at Rs. 45.21 lakh as of 10am IST on December 2.

Under Dorsey, who has frequently expressed his interest in the cryptocurrency, Square bought $50 million (roughly Rs. 375 crore) worth of Bitcoin even before the wave of institutional interest that propelled the digital currency’s price to record highs this year. In February, it further raised its wager and invested another $170 million (roughly Rs. 1,275 crore) in it.

Square has also been weighing the creation of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin to make its custody more mainstream.

The new name would become effective on or about December 10, Square said, but the “SQ” ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange would not change at this time.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Twitter Bans Sharing Personal Photos, Videos of Other People Without Consent

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 1 December 2021

Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent, in a tightening of the network’s policy just a day after it changed CEOs.

Under the new rules, people who are not public figures can ask Twitter to take down pictures or video of them that they report were posted without permission.

Twitter said this policy does not apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

“We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service,” the company added.

The right of Internet users to appeal to platforms when images or data about them are posted by third parties, especially for malicious purposes, has been debated for years.

Twitter already prohibited the publication of private information such as a person’s phone number or address, but there are “growing concerns” about the use of content to “harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of individuals,” Twitter said.

The company noted a “disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.”

High-profile examples of online harassment include the barrages of racist, sexist,and homophobic abuse on Twitch, the world’s biggest video game streaming site.

But instances of harassment abound, and victims must often wage lengthy fights to see hurtful, insulting or illegally produced images of themselves removed from the online platforms.

Some Twitter users pushed the company to clarify exactly how the tightened policy would work.

“Does this mean that if I take a picture of, say, a concert in Central Park, I need the permission of everyone in it? We diminish the sense of the public to the detriment of the public,” tweeted Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York.

The change came the day after Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving the company, and handed CEO duties to company executive Parag Agrawal.

The platform, like other social media networks, has struggled against bullying, misinformation, and hate-fuelled content.

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Twitter’s Former CEO Jack Dorsey’s Journey: From Microblogging Pioneer to Billionaire

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 November 2021

Jack Dorsey on Monday stepped down as the chief executive officer of Twitter, the social media firm he helped found in 2006 and steered through a high-profile hack and the controversial banning of former US President Donald Trump.

Dorsey, who also helms fintech firm Square, will be succeeded by Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal.

Here is a timeline of milestones in Dorsey tenure at Twitter:

2006: Typed out the microblogging platform’s first post: “just setting up my twttr”.

2008: Co-founder Evan Williams took over as CEO after the board pushed Dorsey out. Dorsey assumed the role of chairman.

2013: Twitter went public at a valuation of $31 billion (roughly Rs. 2,32,400 crore).

2015: Dorsey returned as CEO after Dick Costolo stepped down.

2017: A Twitter employee on his last day deactivated then US President Donald Trump’s account which was restored 11 minutes later.

2018: Twitter increased the character limit of tweets to 280 from 140, sparking a mixed reaction in twitterverse.

2020: Activist hedge fund Elliott Management pushed for changes, including the removal of Dorsey as CEO.

2020: Twitter reached an agreement with Elliott to add three new directors for letting Dorsey stay on as CEO.

2021: In the wake of the riots at the Capitol, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account, with the company citing a risk of further incitement of violence.

2021: Twitter outlined plans in February to attain at least $7.5 billion (roughly Rs. 56,230 crore) in annual revenue and 315 million monetisable daily active users, or those who see ads, by the end of 2023.

2021: In March, Dorsey sold his first tweet as a non-fungible token (NFT) – a kind of unique digital asset – for just over $2.9 million (roughly Rs. 21,745 crore).

2021: Former US President Donald Trump in July filed lawsuits against Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet’s Google, as well as their chief executives, alleging they unlawfully silence conservative viewpoints.

2021: The company said it had 211 million average monetisable daily active users, as of the three months ended September 30.

2021: Dorsey’s net worth is $11.8 billion (roughly Rs. 88,500 crore) as of November 29, according to Forbes.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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