WhatsApp announces 2 billion users worldwide3 min read . Updated: 12 Feb 2020, 07:40 PM IST
- Reaching two billion users helps WhatsApp retain its lead in the instant messaging market
- A huge part of WhatsApp’s user base comes from India
Facebook-owned instant messaging app, WhatsApp, today announced that it has over two billion users all over the world. While the company didn’t confirm specific user numbers for India, it had reached 400 million users in July last year, and India is the biggest market for WhatsApp.
Reaching two billion users helps WhatsApp retain its lead in the instant messaging market. Competitor WeChat, which is owned by Chinese Tencent and mostly operated there, hit a billion users a while ago but trails behind WhatsApp. Telegram, which is another messaging app delivering end-to-end encrypted messaging like WhatsApp, had 300 million users, according to a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing in October last year.
According to Statista.com, the total number of users for phone-based over-the-top (OTT) messaging platforms is expected to grow to 3 billion by 2022. The platform projected 2.7 billion users for 2020 and 2.87 billion for 2021, meaning WhatsApp currently owns the lion's share of users worldwide.
A huge part of WhatsApp’s user base comes from India and the country is the largest market for the platform. The company confirmed (to Techcrunch) that it had 400 million users in India as of July 2019, after NITI Aayog CEO, Amitabh Kant, revealed the stat at a WhatsApp press conference. WhatsApp’s focus in India has gone far beyond instant messaging alone.
The company recently gained approval from the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to roll out its payments platform, WhatsApp Pay, in the country. The company has been running a pilot programme for payments with one million users, but it will eventually be available to all of its users in the country, in a phased manner. Like PayTM, Google Pay etc, WhatsApp is also embracing the government’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) platform for this feature.
Adding payments makes WhatsApp a major competitor to other payments platforms here, including PhonePe, Google Pay and PayTM. However, the Center for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC), an independent think tank, has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in front of the Supreme Court of India, asking for an immediate rollback of WhatsApp’s pilot programme for payments.
The CASC has questioned Facebook and WhatsApp’s data localisation compliance. According to an affidavit from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), WhatsApp hadn’t fully complied to the central bank’s data localisation rules for payments platforms in the country.
WhatsApp also announced an investment of $250,000 in India’s startup ecosystem in November last year, through a partnership with the government’s Startup India initiative.
That said, all hasn’t been hunky-dory for the platform in India either. It faced widespread criticism after an spy software from Israeli firm NSO Group, called Pegasus, was found to have been used by hackers to target Indian activists and journalists. Experts have said that the government might use this attack to compel WhatsApp to store its data locally, though where the data was had nothing to do with the hack.
The company has also been in a tussle with the Indian government over its use of end-to-end encryption to secure messages on the platform. This technology ensures that only the sender and recipient of a message can read it and WhatsApp (and other platforms that use encryption) have maintained that they do not have the ability to decrypt these messages, even if requested.
The Indian government though, like some others, want platforms like WhatsApp to build backdoors into its system that allow decryption. Experts have said that this will fundamentally break the whole reason for encryption. In October 2019, India’s Attorney General, K.K. Venugopal, told the Supreme Court, that social platforms have to decrypt data when national security is at risk.
In fact, in January 2020, a parliamentary panel urged the government to regulate social media and said that enforcement agencies should be able to bypass end-to-end encryption to trace distributors of child pronography. The panel had met executives from Twitter, Facebook, Google and WhatsApp, according to a Reuters report. The panel’s report will be considered by ministries in drafting future laws.
“While it may technically maintain some properties of end-to-end encryption, client-side scanning would render the user privacy and security guarantees of encryption hollow," said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a post discussing how backdoors into end-to-end encryption can be created and why they aren’t a solution.