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What Other Messaging Apps Can Learn From WhatsApp's Troubles in India Apps such as Hike and Telegram stand a good chance of attracting a chunk of WhatsApp's user base as controversies pile up for the US-based company.

By Debroop Roy

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Of late, Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp has found itself in the middle of several controversies in India, often concerning the privacy of its users.

Amid a larger debate around online data, and increasing pressure from the country's incumbent government, WhatsApp continues to fight one battle after another, with the latest one coming in the form of Israeli-spyware Pegasus that reportedly compromised the data of 1,400 users globally.

Parent company Facebook announced changes to its branding on Sunday, in an attempt to separate the original brand from the suite of products it has acquired and developed over the years. The move was seen by many as a way to clean up its image after a tumultuous ordeal for founder Mark Zuckerberg following the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And while WhatsApp continues to remain the most actively used messaging app in the country—400 million of its 1.5 billion users are from India—the likes of Telegram and the homegrown Hike are also making steady strides into the market. Hike claims it has more than 100 million users, and though Telegram has not revealed its user base in India, the app has over 100 million downloads on the Google Play Store.

These alternative apps stand a good chance of attracting a chunk of WhatsApp's user base as controversies pile up for the US-based company.

Take Responsibility of Data Being Shared

A spate of mob killings in India last year were linked to misinformation being spread through WhatsApp.

Media reports on the number of killings vary, but the problem was large enough for the government to warn the company over its accountability for the messages that get shared on its platform.

One of the victims of lynching was a man employed by the local government in Tripura to help identify and eliminate rumors on social media.

Following the warning, WhatsApp launched a test to limit the number of forwards for a single user. However, concerns were raised regarding sharing of messages in large groups, as the platform allows as many as 256 users in a single group.

In a blog updated on Tuesday, WhatsApp said it gave users the additional feature to choose who can add them to groups.

Government Wants Traceability

WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption for messages ensures that only the two devices involved know about the information being shared.

This has, however, come under scrutiny from the government. The Indian government has been asking WhatsApp to bring changes that would allow it to see the point of origin for contentious messages.

After the Pegasus row, the government's resolve on this has only strengthened, The Economic Times reported on Thursday, citing a top official.

Earlier this year, WhatsApp introduced a fact-checking feature for Indian users to dispel fake news and rumors. The app's users were provided the option to report and check the authenticity of information they receive by messaging a number on the platform.

Compliance of Payments Platform

WhatsApp has plans to roll out a payment feature on its platform for users in India by 2019 but following the spyware attack, the launch may be hampered.

The Economic Times, citing a senior government official, reported that the government was approaching the Reserve Bank of India and the National Payments Corporation of India to discuss the potential risks involved in allowing social media platforms to offer payment services.

Debroop Roy

Former Correspondent

Covering the start-up ecosystem in and around Bangalore. Formerly an energy reporter at Reuters. A film, cricket buff who also writes fiction on weekends.
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