Users first have to update the latest WhatsApp Web version in order to create a room shortcut. However, the feature is not available on the mobile app yet.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is reviewing a complaint filed in mid-March alleging that WhatsApp was bundling its digital payment facility within its messaging app, allowing it to abuse its market position and penetrate India’s booming digital payments market, the sources said.
WhatsApp and Facebook did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment. The CCI also did not respond. Two of the sources told Reuters the complainant in the case was a lawyer but declined to divulge the identity of the person. Reuters could not independently ascertain who filed the case. The complaint, which has previously not been reported, comes at a critical time for WhatsApp, which is aggressively working to fully launch its payments platform in India, where it has been beta testing it with 1 million users since 2018.
Lack of regulatory clearances have meant WhatsApp has struggled to offer the service to its around 400 million users in India, its biggest market worldwide. The CCI can order its investigations arm to conduct a wider probe into the allegations or throw out the case if it finds no merit in it. “The case is in initial stages .. senior members of CCI are reviewing it but a final decision hasn’t been reached,” said the first of the three sources, all of whom declined to be identified as the case details were private.
The antitrust complaint alleges that WhatsApp’s large user base meant it was dominant in the messaging app market, and the company was forcing its payments feature on to its existing users. The two products – WhatsApp’s messenger service and its payments feature – are bundled, which could harm competition and violate the country’s antitrust laws, the second source said while detailing the allegations.
WhatsApp’s payment service will allow users to do inter-bank fund transfers from within the messaging app. It will compete with payment apps of Alphabet Inc’s Google and Softbank-backed Paytm, which already have tens of millions of users across India. While the antitrust case has been filed against both Facebook and WhatsApp, the complainant has urged the watchdog to investigate only WhatsApp, the second source said.
It was possible WhatsApp could escape a wider investigation as the extent of any market abuse will be clearer only when it fully launches the service, the source added. The antitrust complaint is the latest setback for WhatsApp in India. An Indian legal think-tank last month filed a case in the Supreme Court saying WhatsApp should not be allowed to expand its payments service as it was violating data storage rules.
WhatsApp told the court it will comply with necessary laws before it moves ahead, according to a May 13 court order that also asked Indian regulators to submit its views on the case. In April, Facebook said it will spend $5.7 billion to buy a 9.99% stake in India’s Reliance Industries’ digital arm, as it looks to roll out services for grocers and small businesses by capitalizing on WhatsApp’s extensive reach.
The statement was made during the hearing of a petition seeking a ban on payment through WhatsApp, as it does not conform to the data localization norms.
- Last Updated: May 14, 2020, 11:44 AM IST
- Edited by: Shouvik Das
Social media platform WhatsApp assured the Supreme Court on Wednesday that it will not roll out its payment services without complying with all payment regulations and norms in the country.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and Hrishikesh Roy took up the matter through video conferencing. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the social media platform, said: “WhatsApp Inc makes a statement on behalf of his client that they will not go ahead with the payments’ scheme without complying with all the regulations in force.”
The statement was made during the hearing of a petition seeking a ban on payment through WhatsApp, as it does not conform to the data localization norms. The top court took the assurance made by WhatsApp on record. WhatsApp made the statement during the hearing of a plea seeking a ban on its payment service, for not being in line with data localization norms.
In 2018, WhatsApp was granted a beta licence to launch its payment service, but a dedicated and separate app is yet to be launched. A petition was moved in the apex court that WhatsApp’s existing model for its payments service should be declared inconsistent with the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) Scheme, as a separate dedicated app has not been offered by the company.
The petitioner NGO, Good Governance Chambers, argued that the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) must change its model on the lines of the UPI payment scheme, and its operations may be suspended until these conditions are met.
The apex court today asked the Centre, Facebook and WhatsApp to file their replies within three weeks and it will take up the matter thereafter. The court noted that the government may process the applications filed by WhatsApp in accordance with the law and there is no stay on the same. Facebook was represented by senior advocate Arvind Datar.
The petitioner argued that lapses have been found in relation to WhatsApp’s claims of having a secure and safe technological interface for securing sensitive user data.