WhatsApp is India’s most preferred messaging app. Meanwhile, the chat app is also continually being used as a platform for child abuse and pornography, reveals a fresh investigation by a cybersecurity organisation.
As per a report by The Economic Times, a two-week long investigation in March by the Cyber Peace Foundation (CPF) found tons of WhatsApp groups where child pornography is rampantly encouraged. Each of these groups with hundreds of members each, were discovered through a simple WhatsApp public group discovery app which can be found by running a basic Google search.
The app used for the discovery of these WhatsApp groups was banned by Google on the Play Store in December but is readily available on APK hosting websites.
As per the report, the investigation conducted by the cybersecurity and policy think tank was its second in four months and was conducted on public WhatsApp groups, where participants add themselves via an invite link.
Manager of training and policy at CPF, Nitish Chandan speaking to ET said, “There are several groups that also solicit physical contact with both children and adults at a price.”
Responding to the findings of the investigation, a WhatsApp spokesperson responded saying, “We rely on the signals available to us, such as group information, to proactively detect and ban accounts suspected of sending or receiving child abuse imagery. We have carefully reviewed this report to ensure such accounts have been banned from our platform.”
While WhatsApp on its website states that more than 2,50,000 accounts are banned each month on account of suspected “child exploitative imagery”, the investigation clearly shows that much more work left to be done.
The investigation also questions the group invitation link feature introduced by WhatsApp in late 2016. CPF points out that groups promoting child pornography have icons that are obscene and sexual and explicitly feature children in sexually explicit postures. This, in turn, presents WhatsApp potential to develop tools that filter and identify groups by their icons and forward them to a team that further investigates the matter.
The investigation also adds gusto to demands from the Indian government which has sought traceability of WhatsApp messages to catch fake news, hate speech and sexually explicit content perpetrators. The messaging platform has stubbornly resisted the demand calling itself an encrypted platform which makes it impossible for WhatsApp to read messages.