Will WhatsApp’s digital payment service be safe?

New Delhi: The latest security incident around WhatsApp could have a bearing on the launch of its digital payment services in India as these systems need to be “fool-proof”, a senior government official said. Asked if the Pegasus snooping row could impact WhatsApp’s digital payment plans that are still awaiting regulator approvals, the official said the incident will certainly raise question on seriousness of the plans and security aspects, particularly since digital payment is all about fool-proof systems.

An e-mail sent to WhatApp on the issue remained unanswered. The messaging app, which has about 400 million users in India, has been testing its payments service in the country since last year with about a million users. WhatsApp’s service will compete against the likes of Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay as and when it is rolled out nationally in India. Official sources said the government is ‘disturbed’ about WhatsApp’s lack of disclosures on the hacking incident even during its multiple rounds of talks with the Centre since June.

Sources also questioned WhatsApp for time and again resisting the government’s demands for traceability and tracking of origination of rogue messages, citing privacy concerns, when in fact there have been incidents of users being snooped upon. The government will insist on traceability of source in case of malicious messages, the official said, adding that the Centre has not asked WhatsApp to break any encryption. Sources also questioned the timing of the Pegasus hacking incident disclosures, coming as it does after the Indian government mounted pressure on WhatsApp for traceability.

“If it is a coincidence, it is too much of a coincidence that WhatsApp is under global pressure on the traceability part and Indian government is looking to make social media companies more accountable,” the source said, adding that work on Personal Data Protection Bill is underway and will come up in next session of Parliament. “…you (WhatsApp) are taking the plea of privacy…but privacy is being pilfered by certain rogue elements,” the official said, adding that the government will wait for WhatsApp’s response before taking any action. Source also asserted that WhatsApp was bound by law to make these disclosure but chose not to do so.