India with 54 shutdowns had topped the list of 30 countries that witnessed shutdowns in the preceding 21 months. Source: Shutterstock

On New Year’s eve, India’s WhatsApp users sent billions of messages

POPULAR messaging service Whatsapp recorded a record 75 billion messages sent worldwide on the eve of 2018, of which a staggering 20 billion came from India.

According to the Deccan Chronicle, the service recorded the data between 12 am to 11:59 pm PST only, on Dec 31, 2017.

This was the highest-ever number of messages shared on the platform, which boasts over one billion users worldwide. India is the largest market for the service that has over 200 million active users.

While the world celebrated the countdown to the new year, popular messaging service WhatsApp suffered a global outage for about an hour before the problem was fixed.

“WhatsApp users around the world experienced a brief outage today that has now been resolved,” a WhatsApp spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

The reason behind the outage, was possibly due to the heavy usage of the app to send in New Year greetings to family and friends.

During the outage, users could send messages, but the recipients did not receive the texts.

This is shown on the single grey tick on the side of each message and the absence of a double blue tick, despite the Internet connections of both the sender and receiver working perfectly.

Meanwhile, India on Thursday began investigating a report that access to its database of the identity details of more than one billion citizens was being sold for just US$8 on Whatsapp, in what could be one of the giant programme’s biggest security breaches.

The Tribune newspaper said it had been able to buy login credentials to the Aadhaar database, allowing it to acquire information such as the names, telephone numbers and home addresses of millions of people.

The paper said it bought access for as little as INR500 (US$7.89) from someone on a WhatsApp social media group.

A 3D printed Whatsapp logo is seen in front of a displayed Whatsapp logo in this illustration. Source: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The “case appears to be an instance of misuse,” said the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which runs the biometric identity card scheme, the world’s largest.

The agency said it had initiated a police complaint against the people responsible for selling the access, but did not identify them.

Crucial data, “including biometric information, is fully safe and secure,” the agency said in a statement. The database incorporates fingerprints and iris scans, besides basic information details.

“Mere display of demographic information can’t be misused without biometrics,” it added, ruling out financial fraud, saying access to bank accounts required further authentication that involved fingerprint and iris scans.

But the breach is the latest in a programme facing increasing scrutiny over privacy concerns and is likely to prompt further questions about data safety.

India’s Supreme Court is holding hearings to decide if a drive by the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to link Aadhaar to private and public services infringes the privacy rights of individuals.

“The perils of making Aadhaar mandatory and linking it to bank accounts, as insisted upon by the Modi government, are visible here,” Sitaram Yechury, a leader of the communist party, said in a Twitter post.

“Do we need more proof to stop this madness?”

Last month, the agency barred telecoms firm Bharti Airtel and its Airtel Payments Bank from using Aadhaar details to verify customers’ identities, because the facility was being misused to open accounts on its payment platform.

Additional reporting by Reuters