Some regular Whatsapp users have been banned from the private messaging platform for being a part of groups with suspicious or questionable names. Photo: Patrick Sison/AP

CAPE TOWN – Some regular Whatsapp users have been banned from the private messaging platform for being a part of groups with suspicious or questionable names.

WABetaInfo says that it has been “receiving a lot of reports from users that have been banned from WhatsApp”. In the first report, one user explained that he is a participant in his university’s WhatsApp group and one of his fellow members changed the groups’ name to reference an illegal activity. Soon after, all the groups’ members were banned.

“When these users tried to reach WhatsApp, they have received an automatic reply, that explained that they were banned from violating their Terms Of Services and that they won’t reply again,” this according to WABetaInfo. “So, in this case, someone that was wrongly banned can do nothing and cannot receive the assistance from WhatsApp. People are forced to change their phone number, losing their chat history.”

Since WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, WABetaInfo predicts that the platform uses an automated system to detect controversial or suspicious activity – without actually understanding a specific groups’ chat content. It does this by assessing the group date creation, group subject and even the group description.

While the ban on all group members seems unfair, WhatsApp has made it possible to prevent this kind of situation thanks to its Group Info Restriction feature. Under the Group Settings menu, the group’s creator can decide exactly who has the power to change the group name by making them a group admin.

“In these weeks we are receiving a lot of reports from users that have been banned from WhatsApp. After investigating, it seems that they have a common reason: WhatsApp has banned those users from using WhatsApp because they were in a group that had, as group subject, a malicious name.

“The first report was found on Reddit, where the user … published a post about his WhatsApp ban.

“He explained that a guy that was a participant of his group changed his university’s name group to something illegal, determining the ban for the entire group. He has also confirmed that all members got banned and that it was the 3rd time that a user did that.

“Probably this is the only way that WhatsApp can use to detect malicious groups, seen that chats and calls are end-to-end encrypted and they cannot see the content of the group, so they see its metadata (group date creation, group subject, group description etc..), but is this an efficient solution? A user might change the group subject of his university group just for fun or because he wants that everyone get banned. In our opinion the group subject doesn’t always reflect the content of the group,” says the WABetaInfo.

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