Under pressure to address issues raised by the government, WhatsApp announced the appointment of Abhijit Bose as its India head – the first time it has named a head for the country that accounts for most users across the world.
The Facebook-owned app has been drawing flakes from the government to devise ways to trace the origin of fake messages circulated on the platform, set up a local corporate entity and appoint a grievance officer, in order to curb the spread of deadly rumors that have claimed several lives.
While a US-based grievance officer has been appointed, WhatsApp has sought to address rumour-mongering on its platform by flagging forwarded messages with an explicit “forwarded” label to clarify when a text had not originated from the sender.
It also attempted to slow down forwarding in India by limiting the number of contacts to whom a message could be sent – to five at a time.
Meeting another key demand, WhatsApp Wednesday announced Bose, who was co-founder and CEO of electronic payments company Ezetap previously, will join early next year. He will build WhatsApp’s first full country team outside of California and will be based in Gurugram, the company said in a statement.
Bose and his team will focus on helping businesses, both large and small, connect with their customers, it added.
“WhatsApp is deeply committed to India and we are excited to keep building products that help people connect and support India’s fast-growing digital economy,” Matt Idema, Chief Operating Officer of WhatsApp, said.
As a successful entrepreneur himself, Bose knows what it takes to build meaningful partnerships that can serve businesses across India, he added.
Over 200 million out of its 1.3 billion WhatsApp users globally are in India.
Bose joins WhatsApp from Ezetap where he has served as co-founder and CEO. In a separate statement, Ezetap said its CFO Byas Nambisan has been appointed as interim CEO to replace Bose. Founded in 2011, Ezetap is an electronic payments company backed by top-tier Venture Capitalists.
“WhatsApp is special and can be a major partner for financial inclusion and economic growth in India. WhatsApp can positively impact the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians, allowing them to actively engage and benefit from the new digital economy,” Bose said.
The appointment comes at a time when the Facebook-owned company has been under tremendous pressure to put in place a mechanism to curb fake messages on its platform, that incited mob fury. More than a dozen people have been killed across India this year in mob lynchings, fueled by rumors circulating on WhatsApp.
The rumors ranged from suspicion of stealing children to victims being believed to be killing cows. Riots have been instigated by people forwarding and misinterpreting videos on WhatsApp.
The government has, on several occasions, warned the company that it can’t evade responsibility if its service is used to spread false information. The government has been pressing WhatsApp to develop tools to combat fake or false messages, and also identify message originators.
Apart from the traceability request, the government had asked WhatsApp to set up a local corporate presence and appoint a grievance officer to address complaints. The company had recently named Komal Lahiri — based in the US — as its grievance officer for India.
It is also conducting research with academics and other experts to help understand the challenge of misinformation and improve efforts over time. It has published ads in various newspapers outlining steps to spot fake news and is also organizing roadshows for spreading the message, especially in poll-bound states.
Following multiple incidents of mob-lynching across the country, the government had slapped WhatsApp with two notices, with the second one warning that it will treat the messaging platform as an abettor of rumor propagation and legal consequences will follow if adequate checks are not put in place.