“WhatsApp already has a strong privacy focus, the focus now is to build ways users may want to interact in the digital living room,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s annual developers conference F8 yesterday. By digital ‘living room’, he’s referring to Facebook’s more private messaging apps WhatsApp and Messenger as opposed to more public or ‘townsquare’ platforms Facebook and Instagram. Part of Facebook’s privacy-focused future is redesigning the townsquare platforms to allow for more private interactions, and for the living room apps to allow users to do more within the already private apps – with a focus on payments, interactions with businesses (especially small businesses), and Stories.
“Status is the most popular ephemeral stories product in the world, even bigger than Instagram. This is because its completely focused on delivering a private and intimate experience with people that you know, there’s no public figure accounts that you can follow, and its end-to-end encrypted.” “We want to make sure that the experience is focused on the closest friends and family and not just from whoever posts the most. We are looking to do more ranking on the client side as we move more of our systems to be encrypted. This is going to be more important across apps.”
Here’s a look at whats coming to WhatsApp, announced by WhatsApp product head Ami Vora and Zuckerberg:
1. Payments should be as easy as sending photos: Zuckerberg believes that “sending money should be as easy as sending a photo. WhatsApp is already testing this with a million people in India and the feedback so far has been great.” Facebook is working on rolling out payments in a number of countries later this year – with confirmations of payments coming to Brazil, Mexico, and UK. “Payments and private commerce will be a focus and more news on it will be coming in the next few years,” Zuckerberg said. It’s worth noting that WhatsApp’s beta test for payments in India has been underway for over a year now; earlier plans to launch within a month of the beta test fell through. The plans took another hit once the RBI’s ordered that all payments related data needs to be stored in India; now WhatsApp is trying to comply with RBI’s directive. More on why RBI’s localisation mandate doesn’t make sense here.
2. Zuckerberg and data localisation: Outside of RBI’s localisation mandate for payments data, the Srikrishna Committee’s draft Personal Data Protection Bill (2018) also calls for all data generated in India to be stored locally. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has declared twice within a week that Facebook won’t store data in countries which have a weak law or where governments may have unfettered access to user data.
“We’re not going to store data in countries where it may be improperly accessed wither because there is a weak rule of law or the government might try to forcibly get access to your data.” – at F8, yesterday
More countries following the approach of authoritarian regimes adopting strict data localisation policies where governments can more easily access people’s data, and I’m highly concerned about that future.”
“Our stance on data localisation is a risk. That is, if we get blocked in a major country, that will hurt our community and our business. But our principles on data localisation aren’t new and this has always been a risk.”
– On the Facebook earnings call earlier this week
It’s worth noting that a common justification for localisation in by the Indian government has been that it would be enable it to access user data more easily for law enforcement and investigations, and that it is important for national security.
3. Real-time private location sharing to be enabled: WhatsApp will introduce a way to share real-time location privately, wherein location data is encrypted.
4. Product Catalog and Account Kit for WhatsApp Business: WhatsApp will introduce a “Product Catalog” so businesses can show their products to all customers, instead of messaging each customer individually. “This is especially important, Zuckerberg said, for small businesses that don’t have a web presence. Further, WhatsApp will also release an SDK to integrate WhatsApp verification into Account Kit, which allows people to quickly register for and log into apps by using their phone number and email address.
Last year, WhatsApp released its Business API to enabled businesses to send certain kinds of messages to users in exchange of money to WhatsApp. The feature enabled businesses to send messages about bookings, appointments, purchases and customer care via WhatsApp just as they would over SMS. Communicating over WhatsApp is undoubtedly a better way to service customers.