Facebook shifts gears on WhatsApp payments, picks London for global expansion

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Published: May 8, 2019 1:28:41 PM

Facebook has been seeking ways to make money from the messaging service and has been testing payments via the app since last year in India

Facebook Inc. intends to drive a global expansion of mobile payments on WhatsApp from London, accelerating its efforts to make money off the popular messaging service.

The world’s largest social media company picked the U.K. as the centre of that push because it routinely attracts talent from markets where WhatsApp is popular, such as India, a spokesman for Menlo Park, California-based Facebook said. WhatsApp dispatched engineers to Britain late last year as part of a drive to recruit about 100 people in London and Dublin to support its payments initiative, the spokesman said, confirming an earlier Financial Times report.

Facebook has been seeking ways to make money from the messaging service and has been testing payments via the app since last year in India, WhatsApp’s largest market with more than 200 million users. That rollout, however, has been delayed by regulatory disputes and concerns about malicious content on the service, giving rival systems from Alphabet Inc.’s Google Pay and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.-backed Paytm time to build a customer base.

Facebook’s new London staff will develop a payments function for WhatsApp as well as products that focus on safety and combating spam. While the mobile service now offers end-to-end encryption, meaning content isn’t visible to anyone other than the sender or receiver, it’s proven vulnerable to abuse and misinformation.

Pushing mobile payments may advance Facebook’s thrust into the broader field of financial services, a move that’s been expected since it hired former PayPal president David Marcus in 2014. In 2018, Marcus also became head of the company’s blockchain initiatives.

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