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WhatsApp crosses 2 billion users and makes a pitch for End to End Encryption

(with inputs from Manas Pant)

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, has crossed 2 billion users globally as of February 12, the company announced in a blog post. Currently, WhatsApp has “around 400 million” users in India, WhatsApp told MediaNama in response to a query. Note that WhatsApp had disclosed the same number, of 400 million monthly active users, in July 2019, so this is probably an outdated number. India remains WhatsApp’s largest market.

It’s also not clear whether the 2 billion users number refers to monthly active users. Facebook had said a couple of weeks ago, that Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp together had 2.2 billion DAUs (Daily Active Users) and 2.89 billion MAUs (Monthly Active Users).

Why WhatsApp is making a pitch for End to End Encrytion

WhatsApp has used the opportunity of reaching 2 billion global users to make a strong pitch to End to End Encryption, saying that:

  • Encryption protects users: “Strong encryption acts like an unbreakable digital lock that keeps the information you send over WhatsApp secure, helping protect you from hackers and criminals.”
  • Even WhatsApp cannot read messages sent by its users: “Messages are only kept on your phone, and no one in between can read your messages or listen to your calls, not even us. Your private conversations stay between you.”
  • WhatsApp will hold steady on privacy: “Strong encryption is a necessity in modern life. We will not compromise on security because that would make people less safe. For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy.”

This is important because of the challenges that WhatsApp has faced, in particular, in India, with end to end encryption, and governments wanting access to data through data localisation and weakening of encryption:

  • WhatsApp’s challenges with encryption: WhatsApp execs have had to make several trips to India to meet government officials, including IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, to address concerns around mis-information and fake news. The government wants the company to disclose the originator of messages, and is in the process of modifying the Intermediary Rules, in order to make this a statutory requirement for social media platforms. The government of India is expected to submit these modified and notified guidelines to the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing a case on enabling traceability for Social Media platforms, which began as a case about linking Aadhaar numbers to Facebook accounts. Read our coverage of that case here. Download our report for discussions on amendments to Intermediary Rules here.
  • WhatsApp Pay’s challenges with data localisation: WhatsApp pay has been running in beta mode since February 2018, with the number of users capped at one million, because of a regulatory demand for data localisation. The service, which is based a proprietary payments system called UPI, developed by a company called by NPCI, started its beta mode in partnership with ICICI Bank. The launch had hit a regulatory roadblock after Reserve Bank of India, India’s financial regulatory, imposed data localisation restrictions on digital payments. It seems that WhatsApp’s payments service has now been given the go-ahead. This, however, is being challenged in the Supreme Court of India.

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MediaNama is the premier source of information and analysis on Technology Policy in India. More about MediaNama, and contact information, here.

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