WhatsApp will take more measures to limit viral content on the country's most popular messaging app and is committed to keeping users safe, its new India head Abhijit Bose said Wednesday. Bose, who is the first top-level executive to be hired for the country that accounts for the lion's share of its global user base, said he believed private messaging is fundamental to safety and he would work with all stakeholders in India for the common safety goal.
WhatsApp has been under intense pressure from the government to devise ways to identify message originators to trace the origin of fake messages circulated on its platform, especially ahead of general elections slated to begin next month. Last year, fake news circulated on WhatsApp incited mob fury, leading to the lynching of over a dozen people across India.
Bose's appointment had been announced in November last year and he was to take over the role in early 2019. Bose joins WhatsApp from e-payments company Ezetap where he served as co-founder and CEO.
"One of the questions we often get asked is what role technology can play to ensure the safety of all of us who live in India," he wrote in an e-mail message to media houses. "We strongly believe that private messaging is fundamental to safety and we are pleased that the recent changes we have made to limit viral content and educate users is having an impact. This work is never done there is more than we can and will do."
Stating that he recently joined as the first Head of WhatsApp in India, Bose said he is going to be listening closely and learning in the months to come and looks "forward to working with stakeholders here in India on our common safety goals".
The government has, on several occasions, warned social media companies that they couldn't evade responsibility if their platforms are used to spread false information.
WhatsApp has taken a number of steps over the last many months, including the appointment of a US-based grievance officer for India and introducing a "forwarded" label to clarify when a text had not originated from the sender.
It also attempted to slow down forwarding of messages by limiting the number of contacts to whom a message could be sent - to five at a time.
WhatsApp is also conducting research with academics and other experts to help understand the challenge of misinformation and improve efforts over time. It has published ads in various newspapers and conducted road-shows, radio, and television campaigns, outlining steps to spot fake news.
"In the end, whatever we do has to stay true to the principles that made WhatsApp so well-loved: be easy for everyone to understand and use, solve a few problems very well, and prioritise security and privacy," he said adding WhatsApp will engage and be a supportive partner to India.
Technology, he said, can help address some of the country's most pressing issues. "There are hundreds, if not thousands, of home-grown tech companies building innovative solutions to improve financial inclusion, health, and education. WhatsApp is excited to support these efforts by providing a platform to connect micro-services to people anywhere in the country, helping our blossoming start-up ecosystem deliver critical India-first solutions at scale and speed in order to truly move the needle for our country," he said.
Bose said that the most exciting and impactful deployment of technology at scale would happen in India and WhatsApp is a part of that story.
Detailing how WhatsApp was helping businesses, he said recently the messaging platform has become a place where small business owners connect with customers - whether by answering questions, sending information, or selling products.
"Our research shows that 70% of small businesses using WhatsApp have said they have built their business on the platform and 77% have said they have been able to hire more employees due to growth since joining WhatsApp," he said.
Also, WhatsApp Payments is making it possible for people to easily transfer money to each other or their favourite merchants.
"Our engineers are laser-focused on ensuring that paying someone on WhatsApp is as fast and as intuitive as sending a message. Payments is one of the most personal and regular interactions that people have every day. When opened up to WhatsApp users across India, payments will accelerate financial inclusion and remove barriers for people who want to actively participate in the new digital economy," he said.
Introducing himself, Bose said his parents emigrated to the US in the 1960s where he was born and raised. He made it to the Silicon Valley but moved to Bangalore in 2005 to start his own company.
"Fourteen years later, India is home. We have started our family, built a company, and even brought my parents back - our family has come full circle in one generation. We initially came to India because we were curious, we stayed because we are confident that the next century will belong to India and Asia," he wrote.
Since its inception, WhatsApp has helped millions of families stay in touch - whether they live together in one city or across the world. "My own connection to WhatsApp is personal because it's how my children built bonds with their cousins and grandparents in ways that I never was able to do when I was growing up. These experiences are at the heart of what WhatsApp is about," he added.