Three days after the government stared down WhatsApp, asking it to follow the law and set up an India entity, correspondence between the two reveals the company already exists, in Hyderabad’s HITEC City, as WhatsApp Application Services Private Limited.
In fact, FactorDaily had reported its existence eight months ago in January.
The correspondence, made available in response to an RTI (Right to Information) application by MediaNama, also reveals that WhatsApp baulked at the government’s demand to trace messages, citing privacy and freedom of expression.
On Tuesday, the government had said WhatsApp needs to find solutions to deal with sinister developments like mob lynching and revenge porn.
“It does not take rocket science to locate a message being circulated in hundreds and thousands... (WhatsApp) must have a mechanism to find a solution,” Union minister for electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had then said.
In the correspondence, WhatsApp also said it was stepping up “integrity efforts” ahead of general elections in 2019. “During the recent Karnataka elections, we detected dozens of WhatsApp accounts engaged in spammy behaviour — all of which we banned,” it said. The Washington Post had reported the ban in July.
Already, there are allegations that Cambridge Analytica used personal information harvested from 87 million Facebook accounts to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election. Cambridge Analytica has denied using any data of Indians, but that contradicts information received from Facebook. The Central Bureau of Investigation is probing the case.
In another development, The Economic Times on Friday reported, citing people, that WhatsApp is looking at other countries to launch payment services, with the messaging app finding Google and others getting unfair advantage.
The government had told WhatsApp on Tuesday it must store data in India as a pre-condition to starting its digital payments service.
In June, the electronics and infotech ministry had sent a letter to the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) — the government body for retail payments — seeking details about how WhatsApp plans to store data for its payments feature. The letter was written just after WhatsApp's parent Facebook was embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scam.
WhatsApp had triggered a controversy when it launched the beta version of the payments service in February.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of One97 Communications Ltd, which runs digital wallet Paytm, suggested that NPCI had bent the rules to suit WhatsApp.
“Facebook is openly colonising our payment system and is customising Unified Payments Interface (UPI) to its benefit,” Sharma had been quoted as saying by The Economic Times.
In response, NPCI had said WhatsApp would have to abide by all guidelines before the final version of its payments feature rolls out.
WhatsApp has a user base in India of more than 200 million. Its payments feature, when and if it rolls out, would offer direct competition to Paytm's wallet and Google's Tez service.