Sun. Jan 19th, 2020

A dangerous joke on WhatsApp suspends accounts of thousands of users | Technology

The simple change of name in a WhatsApp group can cause the company to block the phone number of all its members. The dangerous joke is to change the name of the group to a term like "child porn", "child porn", for which WhatsApp has a "zero tolerance" policy, according to their terms of service.

WhatsApp messages are encrypted, so the company does not see what is shared in each group. It is therefore guided by the name or image of the group to know if something illegal happens there. "To help prevent images of child exploitation, WhatsApp relies on all the unencrypted information accessible, including user reports," explains the company. Through this system, WhatsApp has blocked 250,000 numbers every month during the last quarter. A part of those cases have been victims of a macabre joke or challenge.

A dangerous joke on WhatsApp suspends accounts of thousands of users

The challenge has reached Spain and Spanish. "It was a group created and managed by a disco, in order to coordinate their public relations, all of them young university students," says Fernando, a reader of Madrid from EL PAÍS who has contacted the newspaper and prefers not to disclose your last name There were about 200 participants and the users did not all know each other.

As seen in the image, someone changed the name. After a while, everyone received the WhatsApp communication where the block was communicated: "Your phone number is suspended in WhatsApp. Please contact the Technical Support team for assistance." The technical support then sends a e-mail With this explanation: "Your activity violated our Terms of Service. Please note that we may suspend an account if we suspect that your activity is violating our Terms."

"In the group someone did that idiocy and I have run out of number," explains Fernando, who is autonomous and whose effort now to resume contact with his clients from another number is huge.

The same thing happened to Víctor Machuca, a student from Seville who now lives in Madrid. "It was a group of friends from the neighborhood of a lifetime. The person who did it wanted everyone to be expelled from the group and thus take away the power of administrator to one of the members," Machuca explains. "Wow, he did it without evil and without knowing the final consequences, just to make grace," he adds. The trick to gain power has been expensive for the 10 members of the group.

In both cases, the name they put was "child porn". In the Machuca group, the new title was active for one hour. WhatsApp detection systems were fast.

EL PAÍS has contacted Facebook, the company that owns WhatsApp. The only comment they make is to offer a link to the company's terms of service, where they insist on "zero tolerance" with everything that looks like child exploitation.

Users have at least two options to protect themselves. One, administrators can limit the possibility that other group members can change the name. Two, leave all the groups where someone can do the grace to annoy. It does not seem so far that WhatsApp will modify its policies for an absurd viral joke.

Users who really use WhatsApp to share illegal images also use variants with code names, such as the initials "CP" or words that develop those initials such as "chicken soup" or with voluntary typos, "child pron".

Facebook does not clarify if it will try to resolve the situation of the victims of these jokes. The company does not see or know what is shared within these groups. "From the technical support offered by WhatsApp they only send us a message to everyone and they don't give us any solution, they use an automatic bot system in which, even if you request a manual review, they answer directly with another automatic message," says Machuca .

This joke also highlights the undeniable challenge for companies that have more than 1 billion users with constant activity in their tool: there are hardly any humans on the other side to answer complaints or explanations from so many people. "As a consumer, I feel none at all by companies of this type. It is true that their services are free and that from the first moment the user accepts that they can be expelled from the system," says Fernando.

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