WhatsApp is once again in the news after it was noticed that Kashimiris (specifically, those people living in Kashmir) have started disappearing from group chats on the platform. Many users reported their concerns on social media given the current situation in the valley that has no Internet for over four months. WhatsApp has acknowledged the development in a statement to Gadgets 360, clarifying that the disappearance is due to the long inactivity of WhatsApp accounts. Some of the affected users are likely to permanently lose their account data, including chat logs, images, and videos, if they aren't able to back up the data in 30 days from the deactivation.
Many people this week began reporting that their Kashmiri contacts were suddenly leaving their WhatsApp groups en masse. This struck them as strange since Internet services are inaccessible in the Kashmir valley thanks to a blockade since the night of August 4, raising the question of how they were able to access the Internet to leave groups.
"Suddenly all my contacts from Kashmir are ‘leaving' the #Whatsapp groups, and their WhatsApp accounts are getting lost. Remember there is NO internet in #Kashmir from the last 4 months. What kind of sinister moves are these? @facebook @WhatsApp @UNGeneva @UNHumanRights," wrote one Twitter user.
Some users speculated that WhatsApp deleted the accounts of particularly Kashmiri people. However, a WhatsApp spokesperson told Gadgets 360 that the sudden vanishing of the concerned users were a result of the company's policy for inactive accounts.
“WhatsApp cares deeply about providing users everywhere with the ability to privately communicate with their friends and loved ones,” the spokesperson said in the statement. “To maintain security and limit data retention, WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity. When that happens, those accounts automatically exit all their WhatsApp groups. People will need to be re-added to groups upon regaining access to the Internet and joining WhatsApp again."
“Kashmir contacts automatically ‘exiting' from WhatsApp groups today,” one of the users posted while raising the concern on Twitter. “I know they would not have been able to see my messages anyway, but this is heartbreakingly symbolic.”
BuzzFeed News first reported the disappearances of Kashmiri WhatsApp users. The publication quoted some friends and family members who felt dismay due to the removal of their contacts from their group chats.
As per an FAQ listing available on the WhatsApp site, the instant message app completely deletes accounts that remain inactive for up to 30 days. This suggests that it is quite likely that many of the affected users in Kashmir may lose their account data permanently if they don't activate them or at least back up their information such as chat logs or shared images or videos.
India is an important market for WhatsApp. The Facebook-owned firm has over 400 million users in the country as of July this year. In the recent past, it also used the India user base to test features such as payments and frequently forwarded label.