WhatsApp has a big child pornography problem, NGOs find details of many groups spreading it on chat app.



WhatsApp is used for many things but of late one of the most nefarious uses of the app has been to use it to spread child pornography. In India we have seen in the past WhatsApp groups being busted for sharing objectionable photos of children, but now it seems that the problem is global in nature. An NGO in Israel has found that the end-to-end encryption offered by WhatsApp apparently allows many on the chat app to form private groups where people share child pornography.

Despite researchers bringing the problem of child porn to the notice of WhatsApp before, two Israeli NGOs have discovered that the WhatsApp chat groups are being openly used to spread child porn.

It’s important to note that sharing or storing child pornography is illegal in India. It is an offence punishable by jail term and hefty fines.

According to a Financial Times report, the researchers spotted “extensive child abuse material” on the WhatsApp chat groups earlier this year. The NGOs reported these materials to Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, in September but many of these groups are still reportedly active.

As per the report, WhatsApp has smart scanning techniques to keep an eye on users or groups that participate in the sharing of illegal content and it bans thousands of accounts in a day. However, findings have revealed WhatsApp groups with names like “child porn only no adv” or “cp- an abbreviation for child porn” that makes the nature of the group evident.

WhatsApp made its platform end-to-end encrypted in 2016. The company says that feature adds a blanket of security over every call, message including group chats, photo, video, file, voice message, including group chats. The feature is to provide security against any potential cyber threats, hacking or snooping. But WhatsApp on its blog mentions that the same feature refrains WhatsApp also from accessing messages that are suspected to have such vile content.

The videos and pictures of child sexual abuse were discovered by the Israeli researchers on WhatsApp group which were easy to find and join. WhatsApp’s group invite link feature is used by these malicious users to increase the number of members of such illegal groups. The invite link feature was also introduced in late 2016 by the chat app and it makes to easier to discover and join groups. But the same feature is being used by some people to join groups that share illegal content.

According to a Tech Crunch report, several of the third-party apps that are used to discover WhatsApp groups have Adult sections in them that offer invite links to join groups that share illegal content.

Not just foreign countries, cases of child porn being shared on WhatsApp have been reported in India as well. To recall, the cyber cell of Madhya Pradesh, in April this year, had busted an international WhatsApp group that was suspected to be sharing content on child porn. Reportedly people from more than 25 countries including India were a part of that group.

In India, it is illegal to share or even watch child pornography. In case someone found sharing or hosting child pornography, the person can be punished with jail term of up to 7 years and can be fined thousands of rupees. Recently, the government came out with new rules — likely to be approved by cabinet soon and notified — that mandates that if someone comes across child pornography in a WhatsApp group or in a message, the person will have to inform authorities about it and will have to immediately delete such objectionable and illegal content.