March 24, 2019

Why WhatsApp has limited text forwards to five recipients

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Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp messenger service is globally limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five, in a bid to fight “misinformation and rumors,” company executives said yesterday.

“We’re imposing a limit of five messages all over the world as of today,” Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, said at an event in the Indonesian capital.

Previously, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to 20 individuals or groups.

The five-recipient limit expands globally a measure WhatsApp put into place in India in July after the spread of rumors on social media led to killings and lynching attempts.

WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concern that the platform was being used to spread fake news, manipulated photos, videos without context, and audio hoaxes, with no way to monitor their origin or full reach.

The app’s end-to-end encryption allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange texts, photos, and video beyond the purview of independent fact checkers or even the platform itself.

WhatsApp will roll out an update to activate the new forward limit, starting Monday, WhatsApp’s head of communications Carl Woog told Reuters. Android users will receive the update first, followed by users of Apple’s iOS.

Meanwhile, Russia’s communication watchdog said it was opening administrative proceedings against Twitter and Facebook for failing to explain how they plan to comply with local data laws, the Interfax news agency reported.

Roskomnadzor, the watchdog, was quoted as saying that Twitter and Facebook had not explained how and when they would comply with legislation that requires all servers used to store Russians’ personal data to be located in Russia.

The agency’s head, Alexander Zharov, was quoted as saying the companies have a month to provide information or else action would be taken against them. Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in the last five years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country.

Currently, the only tools Russia has to enforce its data rules are fines that come to a few thousand dollars or blocking the offending online services, which is an option fraught with technical difficulties.

However, sources said that Moscow plans to impose stiffer fines on technology firms that fail to comply with Russian laws.

 
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