Union telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said that global social media giant Meta-owned messaging platform WhatsApp will remove mobile phone numbers flagged as "fraudulent" on the Sanchar Saathi portal of the ministry's Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
The DoT data shows the registration of these numbers was done using fake documents, thus there's a possibility that such numbers could be used for cybercrime activities.
He said the Centre would encourage other social media companies to implement similar measures to stop cybercrime activities in the country. WhatsApp, in its statement, said it's "actively engaging" with the government to consistently ensure a safe and secure user experience, including "weeding out bad actors from the platform".
The development comes at a time when several users in India have complained about getting missed calls on WhatsApp from unknown international numbers. Many of such spam calls originate from phone numbers that begin with country codes such as +880 (Bangladesh), +251 (Ethiopia), +60 (Malaysia), +62 (Indonesia), +254 (Kenya), and +84 (Vietnam), among others.
Vaishnaw said the government has engaged with WhatsApp on the issue and it has agreed to "deregister the users which have been detected as fraud users."
In a separate development, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Rajeev Chandrasekhar had last week called the alleged use of a phone microphone in the background by messaging giant WhatsApp an "unacceptable breach and violation of privacy". However, Meta-owned WhatsApp dismissed the claim, saying this is a bug on Android that mids-attributes information in their privacy dashboard.
The Union minister tweeted about the issue after Twitter engineer Foad Dabiri accused WhatsApp of using the microphone in the background while he was asleep. Dabiri was using a Google Pixel 7 Pro smartphone.
Chandrasekhar said the government will examine this immediately and will act on any violation of privacy.
India is one of the biggest markets for WhatsApp, where it has the most monthly active users at around 400 million. In January 2021, India’s antitrust regulator launched a probe against WhatsApp for sharing users’ data with its parent Meta. The Competition Commission of India is investigating WhatsApp and Facebook over alleged violations of users’ privacy and competition norms.