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Saturday, April 17, 2021

WhatsApp banned my mom’s account and here’s what happened next

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I came back home one day after a gruesome 12-hour shift at work and was not ready for what was about to hit me. I hadn’t even crossed the front door porch and I saw my mother standing in the vacant hallway with a disgruntled expression on her face.
Instead of offering me a glass of water, she brandished her smartphone screen at me I was taken aback by what it read. Also Read – WhatsApp working on ‘Support Chat Threads’ for Android, iOS: How it will work

“Your number XXXX has been banned from using WhatsApp”. Also Read – WhatsApp to soon get Instagram Reels tab for better integration: Report

This was a big deal. Knowing that my mother wouldn’t participate in any activities that would get her banned on the platform (she’s a saint), I sensed that this could be one of those notifications that could be fixed. Turns out, I was wrong. Also Read – Facebook introduces ‘Reels’ for users to post short videos, much like Instagram

The stifling FOMO of missing out on the masala of family group chats and not being able to send my marriage profile to potential candidates; it was like her soul had been taken from her.

I was aware that WhatsApp was clamping down on bad actors on its platform, but I never imagined my mother of all the people would end up on that list. Needless to say, I was going to be busy for the next couple of hours figuring out what went wrong.

Why would WhatsApp ban a number?

WhatsApp has banned a lot of users who have not been using the official version of the app or have violated its terms of service in any way. To reduce the number of spammers and fake news proponents, the messaging platform has deployed several countermeasures to deal with this problem.

However, if banned, there is no way for you to know why your number has been banned and that’s exactly why my mother and I had been left pulling our hair.

Not only was she using the Google-verified version of WhatsApp on her smartphone, but she also reiterated that she hadn’t been involved in any activities that would violate WhatsApp’s terms of services. I had to believe her else I would’ve had to arrange my dinner for the night elsewhere.

But jokes aside, the only violations I feel my mother is guilty of is sending good morning messages on the family group daily and if that is a violation that can get you banned on WhatsApp then I feel this system is seriously flawed.
At first, I figured it might have been a mistake on WhatsApp’s end as I read that many user’s accounts had been accidentally banned before this as well. So, I did what any user would do, I followed the protocol.

The supposed fix

If banned, WhatsApp shows a notification to the user and prompts them to “Contact support for help”. The Contact Support section takes you to another page where you must describe your concern and attach screenshots of the error you are seeing. This can also be done for other problems you face with the app.

Since I could not see my problem being fixed via this process, I emailed WhatsApp support for a solution. I specifically mentioned in the mail that my account could have been banned mistakenly and that as a user I did not take part in any activities that would violate WhatsApp’s policies.

WhatsApp Ban A

Even if there is a slight chance that my mother would have violated any terms, it is our right to know where we did wrong.
The only response (a swift one) that we received from WhatsApp’s end was, “We have a reason to believe that your account activity has violated our Terms of Service.”

A further enquiry into the matter revealed that the number had received “several complaints about the account” and in order to protect the privacy of other users WhatsApp was “not going to disclose the nature of the complaints.”
So, to say it clearly, WhatsApp has the right to ban any account without warning and without detailed information of why the account has been banned.


Could this be the reason?

My mother isn’t tech-savvy (like most parents today) and she doesn’t know her way around the nitty-gritty of messaging apps apart from the basics. Before the ban, she had been receiving calls on her WhatsApp from random people from different states claiming that they were getting calls on their account from my mother’s number. As she claims, some even said that they were getting spammed.

Knowing my mother, she rarely takes her phone out to call people let alone spam them, so this claim has left me in a soup. Could this be a case of identity theft? Could a hacker have gotten hold of my mother’s number to spam or fraud people? There is no way of knowing.

It’s fair to say that as a user my mother could have been a bit more proactive and informed WhatsApp about these calls but a majority of the WhatsApp user base is not that informed about its “Terms of Service” and policies. She ignored it at her own accord and this was a mistake, I agree.

I acknowledge the bit that WhatsApp is being proactive in protecting its users by tracking down spammers and removing them but in this particular case, it would have been great if we would have had more clarity.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Having conceded this untenable battle with WhatsApp I told my mother that the best solution now would be to get another WhatsApp number and inform her contacts about the new account.

I also took the issue up with the WhatsApp communications team in India and even shared my mother’s details along with screenshots sent by WhatsApp. To my despair, there has been no concrete solution that the company’s team in India has been able to offer me. They did share with me a PDF document which states why WhatsApp would ban an account. That’s something I can easily read off the internet. Doesn’t solve my problem, does it?

This can happen to you

There are more than a billion WhatsApp users out there and the company bans thousands of unscrupulous accounts every day. WhatsApp says that it has “advanced machine learning systems that take action to ban accounts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Since there is a team of analysts that’s at the helm of decisions like who gets to stay on WhatsApp and who doesn’t, the fact remains that your account/number might also get banned by WhatsApp someday and you would not be able to know why. The entire process seems to be shrouded in secrecy.

It’s always a safe practice to avoid sending bulk messages to contacts on your list and even lock your account using two-factor authentication so that you are not a victim of WhatsApp identity theft. At BGR.in you can find different ways how you can protect your WhatsApp account from social hacking and if you want more details of how your WhatsApp account can get banned, click here.

I’m glad that my mother got a bit of a digital detox with her WhatsApp banned (she’s not a Facebook fan). But, considering WhatsApp is an essential communications tool these days, pray that you are not a victim of such a ‘mistake’.

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