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Govt asks WhatsApp to focus on curbing fake news, not payments: Report

The Indian government wants WhatsApp to prioritize on curbing fake news on its platform, over the plans to launch its payments services in the country, according to a report by PTI. In a meeting held between IT secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney and top WhatsApp executives, including COO Matthew Idema, the company has been told that the fake news issue is far more important than other plans in the current circumstances, reports the PTI citing people privy to the discussion.

Over the past few weeks, the Facebook-owned company was in the center of a major controversy in the country, as the circulation of fake news on its app led to a number of mob lynchings. This led to the company receiving a warning from MEITY to either act on fake news circulation or face legal action. WhatsApp issued a statement saying that it was working with the civil society to fact-check news and raise awareness on spreading rumours. The company also came up with advertisements in newspapers for educating users on spotting false news. Further, the company also rolled out features to curb the circulation of fake messages.

The news comes shortly after we reported that the Indian government is delaying WhatsApp’s foray into payment services due to concerns over how the company will store user data. Furthermore, it was reported that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has not only asked WhatsApp and its partner banks to provide more details about the payments system but also asked the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to check if the firm is fully compliant with its requirements.

In a related development, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company is waiting for a ‘green light’ from the Indian government to officially launch its payments service in the country.  Zuckerberg claimed that the feedback and usage from the people who have tested this service had been very strong and consequently, a lot of people are eagerly awaiting the launch of this product.

WhatsApp Payments in India- The story so far

According to reports, the company began testing its payments feature in February, with around 1 million beta testers. However, the service, which was originally scheduled to launch in March, has been delayed multiple times owing to privacy concerns about parent company, Facebook, following the Cambridge Analytica episode. Also causing a major roadblock was the Reserve Bank of India’s directive on data storage, which mandates that all user payment data should be stored in the country.

Later, WhatsApp announced that although its payments feature is built on Facebook’s payments infrastructure, the parent company will not store any data pertaining to payments. However, things remained uncertain over the implementations of the central bank’s data storage norms. While reports indicated that India’s finance ministry had proposed to ease RBI’s guidelines on storage of payment system data, Paytm, India’s largest digital payment company has been lobbying for local storage of user data. While foreign and domestic payment companies continue to lobby for favourable norms of their own, the recommendations of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna data protection committee will hold the key on the matter’s trajectory. However, some reports point out that it won’t hold good news for Facebook and other international companies because the panel is leaning towards data localisation.

Read: What to expect from the Srikrishna Data Protection Bill

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