While the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had written to Apple India seeking its compliance with the new IT Rules with respect to its iMessage service, the letter was later withdrawn after the government reached an understanding that the app would not be considered a ‘social media intermediary’, according to the Indian Express.
This development is significant because the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code stipulate social media platforms to identify the first originator of a message. Messenger services such as WhatsApp have challenged the rule, saying it would mean the ‘end of privacy‘ as companies will have to break end-to-end encryption. If Apple is not considered a social media intermediary, then this rule will not be applicable to the company.
According to the Indian Express report, MeitY had written to Apple India on May 26, following the end of the 90-day period for social media intermediaries to comply with the IT Rules. It was withdrawn after the government reached an understanding that iMessage would not be considered a ‘social media intermediary’ as it was not “primarily or solely” an instant messaging service provider for enabling interaction between two or more users, the report said.
Under the rules, a ‘social media intermediary’ is defined as any platform which ‘primarily or solely’ allows and enables online interaction ‘between two or more users’, while also permitting these users to ‘create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services’. All ‘significant social media intermediaries’ – platforms with more than 5 million users – would need to comply with the IT Rules. All major social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Signal are classified as significant social media intermediaries.
Though iMessage has 25 million users, it was not classified as a social media intermediary because MeitY reached a conclusion that it is not a standalone messaging app that can be downloaded on any device, according to the Indian Express. Hence, it is not being considered as being “primarily or solely” an entity separate from Apple.
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.… …
Industry insiders, however, disagreed with this claim. According to the Indian Express, two industry executives, who were not named, said that under the new IT Rules, no messaging platform can be out of the purview of compliance.
“Whether it comes coupled with a device or not, the fact is that iMessage is seen as a messaging service across the world,” one executive said.
Another executive said, “[I]f asked by the government to track the first originator of a message, they [Apple] 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.”