As the row over recent hacking of Indian WhatsApp users' accounts intensifies, the government has increased its scrutiny over the proposal to allow social media companies, including Facebook-owned WhatsApp, to rollout e-payments services. Concerned over safety issues, the government has decided to seek suggestions from the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to discuss safety issues related to e-payments services.
The development comes after WhatsApp reportedly said it informed the Indian government in September that 121 Indian users were targeted by the Israeli tech company NSO group's spyware Pegasus.
"We are reaching out to the NPCI and the RBI to discuss safety features and in case some extra steps need to be undertaken to ensure the security of financial data is not breached," a senior government official told The Economic Times.
The latest move by the government could further delay WhatsApp's plan to roll out its much-awaited payments service in India. WhatsApp Payments' launch has been delayed owing to data compliance concerns and regulatory norms in India.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently assured the service would be launched in India soon. The social media giant has for long been in the process of testing the payments service which will be operationalised in the country in the coming days, he said, without giving any specific timeline for the launch.
WhatsApp Pay as and when launched, would compete against the likes of Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay.
The messaging giant on October 31 said Indian journalists and human rights activists were among people globally spied upon by unnamed entities using Pegasus. WhatsApp said it was suing NSO Group, that was reportedly behind the technology that helped unnamed entities' hack into the phones of roughly 1,400 users, spanning four continents that included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.
However, WhatsApp did not say on whose behest the phones of journalists and activists across the world were targeted. Refusing to divulge identities of those targeted in India, WhatsApp said it had stopped a highly sophisticated cyberattack in May that exploited its video calling system to send malware to its users. WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users globally, of which India alone accounts for about 400 million.