Government withdraws letter to Apple for compliance with IT Rules
The Centre has reportedly withdrawn a letter asking Apple to comply with new IT Rules, specifically about the company's messaging service. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) withdrew the letter after reaching an understanding that Apple's iMessage would not be considered a "social media intermediary" under the new rules, as it is not a "solely or primarily" an instant messaging service provider.
iMessage not considered social media intermediary
The IT Rules define "social media intermediary" as any platform which "primarily or solely" allows online interactions between its users and permits them to create, disseminate and access information using its services. However, the government is of the view that iMessage cannot be considered as an entity "primarily or solely" as it is not a standalone messaging app available on every device.
Unlike WhatsApp, iMessage cannot be downloaded by all: Official
A senior government official told The Indian Express, "Unlike other messaging apps like, say, WhatsApp, can anyone download iMessage on their phone and use it?" "If that logic is to be applied, even food delivery platforms, and especially gaming platforms provide an option of chatting with other gamers. Should they also be considered a social media intermediary then? The answer is no," they added.
What do the new IT Rules say?
As per the new IT Rules—announced in February—any social media intermediary with more than five million active users in India would be considered a "significant social media intermediary." It requires them to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Officer, and a Resident Grievance Officer in India. Social media companies also need to publish monthly reports regarding complaints from Indian users.
'Provide reason for why you are not social media intermediary'
On May 26, the Centre had written letters to social media companies seeking details of their compliance. In its letter, the Centre had said that platforms should provide reasons as to why they think they cannot be classified as a significant social media intermediary.
'No messaging app can be out of the purview'
Industry experts expressed their concern by arguing against the exclusion of iMessage from the purview of the IT Rules. Highlighting clause (v) and clause (w) of IT Rules, an industry executive said, "There is no way a messaging platform is out of it. Whether it comes coupled with a device or not." Both the IT Ministry and Apple have not responded to TIE's queries.
What do clauses (v) and (w) say?
Clause (v) talks about the number of users required to consider a social media intermediary "significant." Any platform with over five million active users in India will be considered "significant"—iMessage has 25 million active users. Clause (w) talks about the definition of social media intermediary.
'Will Apple track originator of message if government asks?'
One of the contentious aspects of the IT Rules is that the regulations seek to find the originator of "mischievous" messages or information on these platforms. Since Apple is not considered a "significant" social media intermediary, will it mean "if a law enforcement order which seeks details of a certain message is given to them tomorrow, can Apple deny it?" asks another industry expert.