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WhatsApp payments face hurdle as govt raises concern over payments via social media firms

New Delhi: In the wake of the Pegasus spyware incident that allegedly breached security, the government has approached the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) over the risks in allowing social media platforms, including WhatsApp and others for launching payment services.

It is worth noting that Facebook-owned WhatsApp alleged surveillance by Israeli spyware, Pegasus, is being monitored at the highest levels of government.

“We are reaching out to the NPCI and the RBI to discuss safety features and in case some extra steps need to be undertaken to ensure security of financial data is not breached,” a senior government official told a leading business daily.

Many experts are of the view that the latest controversy is likely to delay the launch of WhatsApp’s payment services in India, which is yet to pass the test of compliance with the country’s financial authorities.

While WhatsApp mentioned that messaging between users on the platform is secure because of its end-to-end encryption model. Several news reports suggested that WhatsApp had earlier informed the government that 121 Indian users were targeted by the Israeli spyware Pegasus. However, the Centre termed the information shared by the messaging app as speculative in nature.

“We maintain that WhatsApp didn’t disclose entire information to us. We learnt of it through media reports,” the business daily quoted the official as saying.

The messaging app has approximately 400 million users in India and it has been testing its payments service in India since last year with about a million users. Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company was hopeful of rolling out the services soon.

The government said the Facebook-owned messaging giant did inform CERT-IN about the hacking incident, but maintained that the social media app didn’t reveal the names and identities of Indian citizens impacted by the snooping incident to the authorities, which it should have.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp’s payments services would compete with several fintech companies in India, including Alphabet Inc’s Google Pay, Softbank- and Alibaba-backed Paytm and Walmart’s PhonePe. Of late, digital payments have been increasing in India owing to the government incentives to bring more people into the formal economy.