WhatsApp has started working on building its payments service for other countries even as it waits for the “green light” from Indian authorities for offering the feature to its user base here. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has been testing its payments services in India for a few months now with about one million users and is waiting for clearance from the government for a full-fledged rollout across the country. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, in a recent investor call, said WhatsApp’s payments services “gives people a really simple way to send money to each other and contribute to greater financial inclusion”.
He added that feedback and usage have been “very strong” among people who have used the service. “All signs point to a lot of people wanting to use this when the government gives us the green light. And in the meantime, we’ve broadened our focus to building this for other countries so we can give more people this ability faster,” he said.
Zuckerberg added that over the next five years, the company is focused on building the business ecosystem around messaging on WhatsApp and Messenger. WhatsApp has been working with the Indian government, National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and multiple banks to further expand its payments feature to more users in India, a company official had told PTI. According to government sources, the Indian IT Ministry has told WhatsApp to prioritise curbing of fake news on its platform, against the backdrop of lynching incidents claiming many lives, over its plans to launch payments service.
The sources had noted that there are outstanding concerns over WhatsApp’s proposed payment service plan, including how and where will the data of users be stored in the backdrop of RBI’s instructions mandating that data be stored in India. The government wants greater clarity on how the storage issue is being handled by WhatsApp and these matters are under discussion, the sources had said, adding that detailed examination is required given that WhatsApp has a large user base in India.
India is the largest market for WhatsApp, with the country accounting for over 200 million of its total 1.3 billion user base. The Ministry of Electronics and IT had asked NPCI to check if WhatsApp’s payments service conforms with the RBI rules and data security of customers. NPCI was also asked to check that all compliances are in place before the US-based messaging app is allowed to scale up its services.
WhatsApp, on its part, has stated that sensitive user data such as the last 6 digits of a debit card and UPI PIN is not stored at all. While it admitted to using the infrastructure of Facebook for the service, it had asserted that the parent firm does not use payment information for commercial purpose. The recent draft Data Protection Bill, submitted to the government by the Justice Srikrishna panel, could also have an impact on WhatsApp’s plan.
The draft bill says that every data fiduciary shall ensure the storage of at least one serving copy of personal data on a server or data centre located in India. Also, the government will notify categories of personal data as “critical personal data” that can only be processed in a server/data centre within India. The panel’s report and the draft data protection bill will now go through the cycle of inter-ministerial consultations, Cabinet approval and finally Parliamentary nod.