Wednesday, 15 May 2019
WhatsApp clones and software tools that cost as little as nearly Rs. 1,000 are helping the digital marketers and political activists bypass anti-spam restrictions set up by the world's most popular messaging app, Reuters has found.The activities highlight the challenges WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook Inc, faces in preventing abuse in India, its biggest market with more than 200 million users.
With fervent campaigning in the staggered general election, which concludes on May 19, the demand for such tools has surged, according to digital companies and sources in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its main rival, the Congress party.After false messages on WhatsApp last year sparked mob lynchings in the country, the company restricted forwarding of a message to only five users. The software tools appear to overcome those restrictions, allowing users to reach thousands of people at once.
Divya Spandana, the social media chief of the Congress, and the BJP's IT head, Amit Malviya, did not respond to requests for comment.Rohitash Repswal, who owns a digital marketing business in a cramped, residential neighbourhood of New Delhi, said he ran a 1,000 rupee ($14) piece of software round-the-clock in recent months to send up to 100,000 WhatsApp messages a day for two BJP members."Whatever WhatsApp does, there's a workaround," Mr Repswal said during an interview at his small, two-bedroom house.
Reuters found WhatsApp was misused in at least three ways in India for political campaigning: free clone apps available online were used by some BJP and Congress workers to manually forward messages on a mass basis; software tools which allow users to automate delivery of WhatsApp messages; and some firms offering political workers the chance to go onto a website and send bulk WhatsApp messages from anonymous numbers.