Government Withdraws Letter to Apple Seeking Compliance on IT Rules 2021: Report

The government has reportedly withdrawn a letter it had sent to Apple India seeking details on compliance with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 — which are commonly known as the new IT Rules — that came into force earlier this year. The letter is said to have been withdrawn after the government reached an understanding that Apple’s iMessage would not be considered as a “social media intermediary”. The rules define a social media intermediary that “primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify, or access information using its services.”

On May 26, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) wrote a letter to all social media intermediaries seeking details of compliance with the new IT Rules. Apple was reportedly one of those entities but is now claimed to be not among them.

Citing people familiar with the matter, The Indian Express reports that the IT ministry found iMessage was “not primarily or solely an instant messaging service provider for enabling interaction between two or more people”. This is, however, contrary to how Apple markets its rich messaging service as the company highlights its functionality of enabling interaction between iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac users.

The IT Rules also define a social media platform as “a significant social media intermediary” that has more than five million active users in India. Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn all come under that definition.

According to The Indian Express’ report, iMessage was also initially considered among significant social media intermediaries considering it was found to have more than 25 million active users in the country. The MeitY, however, reportedly later reached a conclusion that since Apple’s service is not a standalone messaging app that can be downloaded on any device, it is not being considered as being “primarily or solely” an entity separate from the company.

“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,” a senior government official was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Since the IT ministry is said to have withdrawn the letter it had sent to Apple for compliance with the new IT Rules, it is unclear whether Apple is still liable to provide traceability records of iMessage conversations, which is deemed to be one of the salient features of the law. The company also seems to not be required to have local compliance, nodal, and grievance officers in the country, as it is not considered among the significant social intermediaries.

Both MeitY and Apple didn’t respond to requests for a comment on the matter at the time of filing this story.

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