India withdraws demand for Apple iMessage compliance with new IT rules

Apple iMessage compliance India
Image by oasisamuel | Bigstockphoto

India has withdrawn its recent demand made to iPhone-maker Apple seeking details about iMessage service and its compliance with the new IT rules, called the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code.

The country’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has reportedly decided that Apple’s messaging service, which comes preloaded with iPhones, will not be considered a social media intermediary. 

The decision was taken after determining that the app can’t be used on any non-iOS device as compared to other messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal, the Indian Express newspaper reported citing government sources.

iMessage, which has over 25 million active users in India, was initially deemed as coming under the purview of a ‘significant social media intermediary’.

The report added that iMessage is not being considered as being “primarily or solely” an entity separate from Apple.

As per the new IT rules, platforms will be considered social media intermediary if they ‘primarily or solely’ allow and enable online interaction between two or more users besides permitting users to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services’. 

Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram, Signal, Twitter and LinkedIn among others were ordered to comply with the new IT rules by providing details such as name and contact of the chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer. Failing to appoint executives on these posts will attract action from the Indian government. 

Under the rules, these companies are also mandated to publish a monthly compliance report to provide the number of complaints received, action taken and number of complaints resolved.

Notably, any social media intermediary with more than 5 million active users in India would be considered a “significant” social media intermediary under the new rules.

A senior government official told the newspaper that, unlike WhatsApp, anyone cannot download iMessage on their phone and use it. 

At the moment, it is restricted to users who have an Apple device. If iMessage is categorised as a social media intermediary, then even “food delivery platforms, and especially gaming platforms provide an option of chatting with other gamers” would also have to be considered an intermediary, the official said.

Interestingly, WhatsApp has legally challenged the new IT rules and claimed that the government’s demand to trace the “first originator” on its messaging app — being considered a social media intermediary — would break end-to-end encryption. The messaging app’s parent company, Facebook, had earlier said it aimed to comply with the provisions of IT rules and was in discussion with the government on a few more issues.

Industry executives also told the newspaper the decision to keep Apple’s iMessage service out of the purview of the new rules will strengthen WhatsApp’s case. 

“The lens is not on whether Apple is a significant social media intermediary, but whether, if asked by the government to track the first originator of a message, they will do so or not. If a law enforcement order which seeks details of a certain message is given to them tomorrow, can they deny saying that they do not fall under the purview of the new IT Rules? I do not think so,” an industry executive was quoted as saying by the newspaper.The newly appointed IT and telecom minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, last week said that the new IT rules are empowering and protecting users and will ensure a safer and responsible social media ecosystem in India.

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