Govt deadline for social media ends today, Facebook says aiming to comply with IT rules

Twitter, Facebook
The Twitter and Facebook logos along with binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Facebook on Tuesday said it is working to implement operational processes and aims to comply with the provisions of the IT rules that come into effect from May 26.

The social media giant's reaction came a day after WhatsApp on Monday said it will not limit the functionality for users not agreeing to its new privacy policy but will continue to remind users about the update, and maintain this approach till the forthcoming data protection law comes into effect.

Facebook, however, said it continues to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government.

The comments assume significance as social media companies are facing the deadline of May 25 to comply with the new guidelines for digital platforms.

The new rules were announced in February which requires large social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to follow additional due diligence, including the appointment of a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer.

IT Ministry sources said that appointment of a grievance officer would be a key requirement from day-one of rules coming into effect, given the importance of public interface for complaints, and need for an acknowledgement system for requests.

Non-compliance with rules would result in these social media companies losing their intermediary status that provides them exemptions from liabilities for any third-party information and data hosted by them.

In a statement on Tuesday, a Facebook spokesperson said: We aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government. Pursuant to the IT rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies.

Facebook remains committed to people's ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform, the spokesperson added.

The company, however, did not divulge additional details.

According to sources close to the development, provisions around voluntary verification, 24-hour timeline to remove content flagged for nudity etc and setting up a process and time bound grievance redressal mechanism has been put in place, while meeting requirements like generation of monthly compliance reports and appointment of chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer is underway.

On February 25, the government had announced tighter regulations for social media firms, requiring them to remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours and setting up a robust complaint redressal mechanism with an officer being based in the country.

The government had set 50 lakh registered users as the threshold for defining 'significant social media intermediary', meaning that large players like Twitter, Facebook and Google would have to comply with additional norms.

Announcing the guidelines in February, it had said the new rules take effect immediately, while significant social media providers (based on number of users) will get three months before they need to start complying.

The three-month time period meant compliance by May 25.

Last week, Koo had said it has complied with the requirements of the new rules and its Privacy Policy, Terms of Use and Community Guidelines now reflect the changes. Koo has close to 6 million (60 lakh) users, making it a major social media intermediary under the new guidelines.

Significant social media companies will also have to publish a monthly compliance report disclosing details of complaints received and action taken, as also details of contents removed proactively. They will also be required to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app, or both.

As per data cited by the government, India has 53 crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 crore YouTube users, 41 crore Facebook subscribers, 21 crore Instagram clients, while 1.75 crore account holders are on microblogging platform Twitter.

The new rules were introduced to make social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram - which have seen a phenomenal surge in usage over the past few years in India - more accountable and responsible for the content hosted on their platform.

Social media companies will have to take down posts depicting nudity or morphed photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

Notably, the rules require significant social media intermediaries - providing services primarily in the nature of messaging - to enable identification of the "first originator" of the information that undermines sovereignty of India, security of the state, or public order.

The intermediary, however, will not be required to disclose the contents of any message. This could have major ramifications for players like Twitter and WhatsApp.

The rules also state that users who voluntarily want to verify their accounts should be given an appropriate mechanism to do so, and be accorded a visible mark of verification.

Users will have to be provided with a prior intimation and explanation when a significant social media intermediary removes content on its own. In such cases, users have to be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary. 

WhatsApp won't limit functionality

Days after the government directed the messaging platform to withdraw its new privacy policy, a WhatsApp spokesperson said the company has responded to the letter and has assured that the privacy of users remains the highest priority for the Facebook-owned entity.

The spokesperson, in an emailed statement, said the company will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks.

Instead, we will continue to remind users from time to time about the update...We hope this approach reinforces the choice that all users have whether or not they want to interact with a business. We will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming PDP (Personal Data Protection) law comes into effect, the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson reiterated that the recent update does not change the privacy of people's personal messages.

Its purpose is to provide additional information about how people can interact with businesses if they choose to do so, the spokesperson added.

On May 18, the government had ordered WhatsApp to withdraw its controversial privacy policy update, saying the changes undermine the sacrosanct values of privacy, data security and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens.

WhatsApp, in the past, has said it is open to answering any questions from the government on privacy and that it will continue to explain to users that their messages are end-to-end encrypted. 

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.