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India's Parliamentary Panel Grills Twitter, Facebook Executives Over Serious Concerns

© AFP 2023 / DENIS CHARLETA photo taken on October 21, 2020 shows the logo of the the American online social media and social networking service, Facebook and Twitter on a computer screen in Lille
A photo taken on October 21, 2020 shows the logo of the the American online social media and social networking service, Facebook and Twitter on a computer screen in Lille - Sputnik International
A parliamentary standing committee on Information Technology (IT) summoned officials from social networking giants Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to discuss an array of concerns. The 31-member parliamentary panel, presided over by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor asked the assembled spokesmen a series of questions.

During the virtual meeting, one of the most important subjects discussed - particularly with Twitter - was how it decides to suspend or block accounts.

The topic is of particular interest in India because in 2020 the micro-blogging site restricted the account of federal Home Minister Amit Shah for reasons that were unclear at the time. The minister has more than 24 million followers on Twitter. 

Responding to the query, Twitter said that a picture posted on Shah’s account raised some copyright concerns that were automatically detected. It added that suspending Shah’s account was an “unintended error” and noted that the suspension was overturned within half an hour, news agency ANI reported, citing officials familiar with the matter.

Still focusing on Twitter, the Tharoor-led panel also wanted to discover why the site misrepresented the map of India, showing the geo-location of India’s Leh region in Ladakh as part of China.

As long ago as last October, India’s federal IT Secretary Ajay Sawhney wrote a strongly worded letter to Twitter's chief executive Jack Dorsey saying this kind of map misrepresentation is disrespectful to India's sovereignty.

Moving on to Facebook and WhatsApp, the discussion revolved mainly around the latter’s recently released privacy policy update. 

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Facebook is the parent organisation of instant messaging app WhatsApp, that is used by more than 400 million Indians. In its latest update, WhatsApp told users of its dedicated “Business” app - which is for buying and selling items - that some information will be collected and shared with Facebook to enhance the personalised business experience. 

The update sparked major controversy around the world and WhatsApp decided to postpone its plans by three months.

During the meeting, neither Facebook nor WhatsApp executives mentioned whether the policy could be abandoned after internal deliberation.

“They did reassure the panel that individual rights were its priority and asserted that the policy was introduced in 2016. They maintained that the new policy will not impinge on the rights of users and there should be no concerns regarding data sharing,” Hindustan Times reported, citing sources. 

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However, the WhatsApp representatives said they were grateful to the parliamentary committee for having been given the “opportunity to appear before them and provide views”.

Other topics discussed during the online meeting directed the social networking giants to strengthen their regulations against hate speech so that their apps could remain a safe space for everybody.

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