Engineers at popular messaging app WhatsApp Monday have said they are exploring ways to check spread of fake news, through fake broadcast messages, on its platform.
WhatsApp software engineer Alan Kao termed the situation as “complex” because of the end-to-end encryption of messages on the platform that does not allow anyone – except the sender and the receiver – to read the messages.
“We definitely do not want to see fake news on our platform and it’s a complex problem in determining what is fake and what isn’t. Because of the encryption, we can’t read the contents of the messages,” Kao said speaking with reporter lately.
He added that the Facebook-owned company is looking at different ways in which they can tweak the product to “try and minimise” fake news.
Kao said WhatsApp is taking a number of steps, including educating users to explain that they should check authenticity of content before sharing it on the platform.
However, WhatsApp does already provide a feature to report objectionable contents.
A user can take screenshots and share them with appropriate law enforcement authorities.
But this is way too cumbersome in a country as Nigeria.
WhatsApp has about 1.3 billion users globally, and instances of objectionable contents are being shared massively through the messaging platform.
Since WhatsApp did not have content of the messages available with them, their ability to take action was limited.
In April last year, WhatsApp had introduced end-to-end encryption to protect conversations of its millions of users from hackers and “regimes”.
Critics, however, contend that it also makes WhatsApp an ideal platform for spreading fake news, propaganda and objectionable content in the absence of oversight.
There are also concerns that WhatsApp could be sharing user data with Facebook.
But Kao said WhatsApp values the trust of its users and that the platform was built with “privacy and security in mind”.
“Any change that would weaken the encryption will be detected very quickly.
It’s impossible to make a secret backdoor.
“You cannot just create backdoor for just one party… Privacy will continue to be a key part of what we do,” he said.
Kao stressed that existence of such “backdoors” will be a prime target for hackers.
Explaining the mechanism of the end-to-end encryption, Kao said WhatsApp does not store any message on its server and only the sender and receiver can see the message.
“The message is stored on our server in an encrypted format and once the receiver reads the message, it is deleted from our servers. In case the receiver does not read the message (seen as two ticks on the sender’s phone) within 30 days, it is purged,” he said.