WhatsApp threatens legal action against public claims of messaging abuses

The WhatsApp messaging application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 June 2019

WhatsApp threatens legal action against public claims of messaging abuses

  • WhatsApp says it blocks more than 2 million accounts per month worldwide for bulk or automated behavior

NEW DELHI: WhatsApp has threatened legal action against those who publicly claim the ability to abuse its messaging platform, after the emergence of a raft of companies advertising products to bypass usage restrictions.
A Reuters investigation found in May that WhatsApp clones and software tools were helping Indian digital marketers and political activists bypass anti-spam restrictions in the run-up to India’s general election.
Until now, WhatsApp has focused legal action on abuses for which it had found internal evidence.
However the Facebook-owned company said in a post titled “Unauthorized usage of WhatsApp” (https://bit.ly/2XbuJjv) that from Dec. 7 it would take action even if an entity merely made public claims of an ability to abuse its platform.
The company said this “serves as notice that we will take legal action against companies” for such abuses. A WhatsApp spokeswoman did not specify what sort of legal action it could take.
Reuters in May reported WhatsApp was being misused ahead of India’s general election through the use of free clone apps and via a $14 software tool that allowed users to automate delivery of bulk WhatsApp messages.
Tools purporting to bypass WhatsApp restrictions have also been advertised in videos and online forums aimed at users in Indonesia and Nigeria, both of which held elections this year.
Some firms in India also offered the chance to send bulk WhatsApp messages from anonymous numbers via a website, Reuters found.
Fighting spam has been a major issue for WhatsApp, especially in India, where it has more than 200 million users.
Last year, false messages circulating on WhatsApp sparked mob lynchings in India, following which the company restricted forwarding of a message to only five users.
WhatsApp said it will also continue banning accounts based on machine learning. WhatsApp says it blocks more than 2 million accounts per month worldwide for bulk or automated behavior.


US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

Updated 12 July 2020

US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

  • According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists are facing the possibility that their visas may not be renewed
  • The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities

DUBAI: The US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) might not renew visas for foreign journalists working at Voice of America (VOA).
The decision comes after Michael Pack joined USAGM as CEO last month, and fired the heads of four organizations: Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund. 
According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists working for the organization in Washington are facing the possibility that their visas, many of which expire this month, may not be renewed.
A VOA journalist, who asked not to be named, said it could lead to the departure of more than 100 staffers in the foreign language services, reported National Public Radio (NPR). 
The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities. Currently, there are 62 contractors and 14 full time employees at USAGM who are in the US on Exchange Visitor (J-1) visas. There are 15 categories under the J-1 visa, which is essentially a non-immigrant entry permit for individuals with skills who are approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. It is worth noting that the J-1 is among the visas that were banned by the administration of President Donald Trump in response to the coronavirus disease pandemic, with the administration suggesting holders take jobs away from US citizens.
A USAGM spokesperson told VOA that the agency was conducting a case-by-case assessment of J-1 renewal applications, and so far none of the journalists seeking J-1 extensions appears to have been rejected outright. The spokesperson added said the visa review is aimed at improving agency management, protecting US national security and ensuring that hiring authorities are not misused.
Media organizations have spoken out against the news. “This reported decision puts the lives of intrepid, free-thinking foreign journalists at risk. Many of these journalists have worked with VOA precisely because it offers them the opportunity to report stories that they cannot tell in their home countries without risk of severe punishment,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. 
“If these journalists are forced to return home, some of them will be greeted with jail cells or worse. It is appalling that the VOA’s new boss could be so reckless about the safety of journalists who have given their talents and insights to help the US inform the global public. These journalists deserve protection, not betrayal,”
The National Press Club, which represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide, also spoke out. “We know of no sensible reason to deny VOA’s foreign journalists renewed visas. These men and women provide an essential service to VOA by reporting from the US and telling the American story to their audiences overseas. They have the language skills and cultural background to perform this work. They are not taking jobs away from American workers,” said its president, Michael Freedman.
At the time of publication USAGM had not responded to Arab News’ request for comment.