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India to send official whassup to WhatsApp after massive spamstorm

India’s IT minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar will ask WhatsApp to explain what’s up, after the Meta-owned messaging service experienced a dramatic increase in spam calls.

India is the largest market for WhatsApp, with over 450 million users – many of whom have in the last couple of weeks received plenty of spam calls from overseas. Many of the calls involve fake job offers, usually with a request to negotiate the gig on a different messaging platform – which makes tracking the perps harder.

The timing of that spam storm is intriguing. On May 1, Indian carriers were required to implement AI-powered spam call filters. As The Register reported in November 2022, the AI-infused system was developed after a blockchain-based spam-buster bombed.

Might scammers have turned to WhatsApp after conventional carriers hardened up?

Whatever the exact reasons for WhatsApp being whacked, Chandrasekhar is not happy about the amount of spam it’s carried. He told local media his ministry will send a “please explain” missive to WhatsApp.

The messaging service appears to have … erm … got that message before it was sent, issuing a statement in which it said it’s aware of a novel tactic used by scammers, and has acted to curb it.

“We have quickly ramped up our AI & ML systems to bring down such incidents significantly,” the statement reads. “Our new enforcement will reduce the current calling rate by at least 50 percent and we expect to be able to control the current incidence effectively. We will continue to work relentlessly towards ensuring a safe experience for our users.”

India-CERT warns on AI

India’s Computer Emergency Response Team has issued a warning about generative AI, which it says can be used to create malicious code, to power a variety of scams, or to “scrape information from the internet such as articles, websites, news and posts, and potentially taking Personal Identifiable Information (PII) without explicit consent from the owners to build corpus of text data.”

The Team has urged Indian orgs to educate their developers about the possible downsides of AI, and to avoid submitting “sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial information or copyright data to such applications.”

The spam storm is not WhatsApp’s only problem in India over the last week. A Twitter engineer named Foad Dabiri posted the microphone use history from his Android device, showing WhatsApp listening in during the wee small hours.

Minister Chandrasekhar described that as “an unacceptable breach and violation of #Privacy,” then promised: “We will be examining this immediately and will act on any violation of privacy.”

WhatsApp responded by throwing Google under a bus.

“We believe this is a bug on Android that mis-attributes information in their Privacy Dashboard and have asked Google to investigate and remediate,” the outfit tweeted.

All of which leaves WhatsApp waiting for two stinky letters from India within a week, and beefing with a key rival.

On top of this week’s mess, the org is awaiting the verdict of a court case to decide whether its privacy policy achieves the opposite – by funnelling information to Facebook for advertising purposes – and by so doing violates Indian law. ®