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PhonePe Raises $100 Million From General Atlantic, Investors During Ongoing Fundraise




PhonePe in March had the largest market share among apps running UPI digital payments system in India.
By Agencies | Updated: 12 April 2023

Walmart-owned Indian payments firm PhonePe on Wednesday said it had raised an additional $100 million (roughly Rs. 820 crores) from General Atlantic and other investors as part of its ongoing $1 billion (roughly Rs. 82,063 crores) fundraising to expand into the lucrative lending space.

With the latest round, PhonePe, India’s most valuable payments firm with an estimated value of $12 billion (roughly Rs. 9,84,744 crores) has raised $650 million (roughly Rs. 533 crores) across four tranches from its backers, including Tiger Global.

General Atlantic had invested $350 (roughly Rs. 287 crores) million in the fintech during the same funding round in January.

At over 46 percent, PhonePe in March had the largest market share among applications running the unified payments interface (UPI) digital payments system, per data from the National Payments Corporation of India.

Recently, the digital payments firm PhonePe launched an app called Pincode on the Indian government’s open network to strengthen its e-commerce business.

The Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) was launched last year to enable small merchants and local stores across India to access processes and technologies typically deployed by large e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Walmart.

Pincode, which will focus on hyperlocal commerce, is currently live only in Bengaluru and available on the Google Play Store and the App Store, PhonePe said in a statement. It said categories on the app will include groceries, food, pharma, electronics, home decor, and fashion.

The company is targeting 100,000 orders a day on the app by December, Chief Executive Sameer Nigam said, adding that it would not launch the service in more than 10 cities in the first year.

PhonePe already has an e-commerce platform, called Switch, on its app, which offers services including food delivery, grocery shopping, travel, hotel booking, retail fashion, and healthcare.


WhatsApp to Offer Card Payments, Services From Rival Digital Payment Providers in India




WhatsApp users can now pay using popular UPI-based payment services like Google Pay, Paytm, and PhonePe directly within the app.
By Reuters | Updated: 20 September 2023

WhatsApp said on Wednesday that it will offer credit card payments and services from rival digital payment providers within its app in India, the latest bet by the Meta-owned service to boost commerce offerings in its biggest market. WhatsApp has more than 500 million users in India, though regulators there have capped its in-app WhatsApp Pay service to only 100 million people. People shopping on WhatsApp could also pay using popular services like Alphabet’s Google Pay, Paytm and Walmart’s PhonePe but only after being redirected outside WhatsApp.

Payments via those rival services – and any others that run on India’s instant money transfer system UPI – will now be possible directly within WhatsApp, Meta said in a blog post. New in-app options for credit and debit cards will also be offered.

The additions bolster Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s plan for business messaging to become the “next major pillar” of the company’s sales growth, an agenda that has assumed greater urgency as Meta’s core ads business and metaverse project have come under pressure.

While WhatsApp Pay users will remain capped in India, there is no such limit on the number of users permitted to transact with businesses on WhatsApp using the other methods, a Meta spokesperson said.

With some 300 million people spending about $180 billion via India’s UPI each month, the new transaction options could serve as a powerful lure to attract businesses to pay Meta for access to WhatsApp users.

To date, WhatsApp has limited its end-to-end shopping experiences in India to pilot programs like that with online grocery service JioMart, run by India’s richest person, billionaire Mukesh Ambani, and the metro systems in the cities of Chennai and Bengaluru.

Moving forward, the new payment tools will be available to any company in India that uses WhatsApp’s business platform, which mainly serves large companies, according to the blog post.

Meta is also expanding its Meta Verified subscription program to businesses globally, giving companies a mechanism to validate authenticity and elevate their content in users’ feeds, a separate blog post said.

Monthly subscriptions will be available on Instagram and Facebook in a handful of countries to start and will expand to WhatsApp at a later date, costing $21.99 (roughly Rs. 1,800) per Facebook page or Instagram account or $34.99 (roughly Rs. 2,900) for both, according to the post.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Meta Urged Not to Roll Out End-to-end Encryption on Messenger, Instagram by UK




End-to-end encryption is a bone of contention between companies and the government in the new law.
By Reuters | Updated: 20 September 2023

Britain urged Meta not to roll out end-to-end encryption on Instagram and Facebook Messenger without safety measures to protect children from sexual abuse after the Online Safety Bill was passed by parliament.

Meta, which already encrypts messages on WhatsApp, plans to implement end-to-end encryption across Messenger and Instagram direct messages, saying the technology re-enforced safety and security.

Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she supported strong encryption for online users but it could not come at the expense of children’s safety.

“Meta has failed to provide assurances that they will keep their platforms safe from sickening abusers,” she said. “They must develop appropriate safeguards to sit alongside their plans for end-to-end encryption.”

A Meta spokesperson said: “The overwhelming majority of Brits already rely on apps that use encryption to keep them safe from hackers, fraudsters and criminals.

“We don’t think people want us reading their private messages so have spent the last five years developing robust safety measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online security.”

It said it would update on Wednesday on the measures it was taking, such as restricting people over 19 from messaging teens who do not follow them and using technology to identify and take action against malicious behaviour.

“As we roll out end-to-end encryption, we expect to continue providing more reports to law enforcement than our peers due to our industry leading work on keeping people safe,” the spokesperson said.

Social media platforms will face tougher requirements to protect children from accessing harmful content when the Online Safety Bill passed by Parliament on Tuesday becomes law.

End-to-end encryption is a bone of contention between companies and the government in the new law.

Messaging platforms led by WhatsApp oppose a provision that they say could force them to break end-to-end encryption.

The government, however, has said the bill does not ban the technology, but instead, it requires companies to take action to stop child abuse and as a last resort develop technology to scan encrypted messages.

Tech companies have said scanning messages and end-to-end encryption are fundamentally incompatible.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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WhatsApp Considers Showing Ads Alongside List of Conversations in Chat Screen: Report




Meta is also deliberating whether to charge a subscription fee to use the app ad-free.
By Reuters | Updated: 15 September 2023

Teams at Meta have been discussing whether to show ads in lists of conversations with contacts on the WhatsApp chat screen, but no final decisions have been made, the report said, citing three people familiar with the matter.

Meta is also deliberating whether to charge a subscription fee to use the app ad-free, the report said, adding that many company insiders were against the move.

Meta did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

In June, Meta gave employees a sneak peek at a series of AI tools it was building, including ChatGPT-like chatbots planned for Messenger and WhatsApp that could converse using different personas.

In March, WhatsApp agreed to be more transparent about changes to its privacy policy introduced in 2021, following complaints from consumer bodies across Europe.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and the European Network of consumer authorities told WhatsApp last year that it had not clarified the changes in plain and intelligible language, violating the bloc’s laws.

WhatsApp agreed to explain changes to EU users’ contracts and how these could affect their rights, and agreed to display prominently the possibility for users to accept or reject the changes and ensure that users can easily close pop-up notifications on updates.

The company also confirmed that users’ personal data is not shared with third parties or other Meta companies, including Facebook, for advertising purposes.

“Consumers have a right to understand what they agree to and what that choice entails concretely, so that they can decide whether they want to continue using the platform,” Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders had said at the time.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Snap to Introduce In-App Warning, Other Safety Features to Protect Teen Users




Snap's in-app warnings feature sends a pop-up warning to a teen user if someone tries to add them as a friend when they do not share mutual contacts.
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 8 September 2023

Social media app maker Snap on Thursday said it will roll out in-app warnings and other safeguards globally to offer enhanced protection to users between the age group of 13-17 years against online risks.

The safeguards will enable safer communications and search, and show teenage users age-appropriate content.

It will also launch a new Strike System for inappropriate accounts with increased education about common online risks, Snap said in a statement.

According to Statista, India has the highest number of Snapchat users, and a large number of its users are Gen Z or millennials who were born after 1996.

The in-app warnings feature sends a pop-up warning to a teen user if someone tries to add them as a friend when they do not share mutual contacts or the person isn’t in the contact list.

The Strike System will remove accounts that market and promote age-inappropriate content based on them being detected internally, or that get reported. If an account is repeatedly trying to circumvent rules, it will be banned, according to the new system and rules.

Additionally, Snap will make its in-app content developed in partnership with Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC) live, as important local resources for addressing topics like mental health, responsible sharing, and online safety.

“Our latest features are thoughtful in-app features that are designed to empower teens to make smarter choices and talk openly about staying safe online.

“We are committed to making sure Snapchat is a place where you can be creative and stay safe and above all, the safety and well-being of our community in India, which includes over 200 million users, is our top priority,” Snap Head Public Policy-South Asia Uthara Ganesh said.

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Paytm Disbursed Over Rs. 5,500 Crore in Loans; While UPI Crosses 10 Billion Transactions in August




The number of merchants paying subscription for payment devices stood at 87 lakh as of August 2023, said Paytm.
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 September 2023

Fintech major Paytm on Tuesday said it disbursed $667 million (Rs. 5,517 crore) loans through its platform and deployed 87 lakh devices for offline payments in August.

The Vijay Shekhar Sharma-led fintech platform said in a regulatory filing that on an average 9.4 crore users transacted through Paytm monthly during July and August this year, which was 20 percent higher than the average number of users recorded during the same period last year.

“Our loan distribution business (in partnership with our lender partners) continues to gain scale with disbursements of Rs. 10,710 crore (y-o-y growth of 137 percent) and 88 lakh loans (y-o-y growth of 47 percent) disbursed in quarter to date for the month of July and August 2023 combined, through the Paytm platform,” the company shared in its operating performance report for August.

The number of merchants paying subscription for payment devices stood at 87 lakh as of August 2023, which is an increase of 42 lakh devices year-on-year, Paytm added.

Merchant Payment Volumes (GMV) for the Antfin-backed firm stood at Rs. 3 lakh crore during July and August, registering an on-year growth of 43 percent.

Meanwhile, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) transactions crossed 10 billion mark in August, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) said.

NPCI is an umbrella organisation for all retail payment systems in India. UPI is used for immediate money transfer through mobile devices round the clock.

“Drumroll please! UPI has just shattered records with an astonishing 10 billion plus transactions. Join us in celebrating this incredible milestone and the power of digital payments. Let’s keep the momentum going and continue to revolutionize the way we make transactions with UPI!,” NPCI said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

According to the NPCI data, the UPI transactions on August 30 stood at 10.24 billion. In value terms, the transaction had totalled Rs. 15,18,456.4 crore.

The number of UPI transactions in July was 9.96 billion (996.4 crore), up from 9.33 billion in June. In value terms, the transactions totalled Rs. 15,33,645.20 crore.

UPI (Unified Payment Interface) is an instant payment system that allows users to instantly transfer money to any bank account.

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India Is Priority Market for Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram: Meta India Chief




India is among Meta's largest user bases globally — 400 million users of Facebook were here at the last count and growing.
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 September 2023

Meta sees India as a “priority market” with “limitless” possibilities buoyed by macroeconomic growth, digital infrastructure and the popularity of its apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, the social media giant’s India head Sandhya Devanathan said.

In an interview with PTI, Devanathan, who took over the leadership role in January this year, said India’s new Digital Personal Data Protection legislation has provided a framework and clarity for tech companies and marks a “great step in balancing user protection with innovation”. Meta, she emphasised, “welcomes constructive regulations”, and will wait to see the detailed rules.

Devanathan, who is the Vice President of Meta in India, also spoke of the company’s determination to crack down on misinformation on the platform and outlined how it is harnessing AI (Artificial Intelligence) to pro-actively curb hateful content.

Meta will continue with its election integrity efforts, as India heads for Lok Sabha elections next year, she said.

India is among Meta’s largest user bases globally — 400 million users of Facebook were here at the last count and growing.

She said the user growth trajectory is strong. Overall, the possibilities offered by the Indian market are “limitless”, backed by strong macroeconomic fundamentals, Digital Public Infrastructure, and other factors.

For Meta, India is also one of the most engaged markets in short-form videos both in terms of creation and consumption of ‘Reels’, Devanathan said. “Meta India is innovating for Meta globally” and there is also a massive momentum in small businesses using Meta platforms and tools.

A significant number of businesses in India are on Meta, using its platforms to set up their first presence on the internet and to find and communicate with customers, she pointed out.

To a question on Facebook losing appeal among teens and young adult users across key markets, signalling a clear shift in preferences, Devanathan asserted that Facebook continues to see traction and relevance among users of all age groups.

Devanathan said she does not agree with the perception of a slow decline of Facebook with younger audiences.

“India is a huge priority market for the company. So, India has one of our largest user bases, be it on Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp. But equally, India is also the place where we test a lot of what we roll out globally as well. It has also been where we develop a lot of our innovative products and that investment will continue,” she said.

India’s vision of a $1 trillion (nearly Rs. 83,01,150 crore) digital economy by 2030 is a significant tailwind for opportunities, she noted.

“And that number is going to mean that tech companies will have tailwinds of a growing economy. Equally, you are looking at almost a billion people on the internet in not the very distant future, of which 400 million are expected to shop online…also look at the video consumption numbers…So there is this huge headroom not just for Meta, but for a whole lot of other companies as well,” she said.

Moreover, the advertising dollars as a percentage of GDP, is one of the lowest for India as compared to other markets. That number for the US is at about 1.9 percent with India at a sub 0.5 percent.

Meta sees India as a “huge priority market” to innovate, engage with users, and for business to grow.

Devanathan said Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram serve a wide spectrum of users.

“Facebook has actually a very thriving active community. So, I would debunk any myth…in terms of Facebook’s numbers… we just announced a few months ago that the daily activities on Facebook are growing, and just touched 2 billion and that’s a huge number of daily activities that we reported,” she said.

People use Facebook to come together and connect with friends, family, and community and that underlying appeal “hasn’t changed”.

“When you look at the 2 billion number…it is across-the-board. Facebook is very much a thriving platform across the world,” she said, emphasising that the slow decline of Facebook is not happening.

On the new regulatory framework emerging in India — the Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Act, Digital India legislation in the offing, and existing social media rules — she said Meta welcomes “constructive” regulations.

“What DPDP has done is, it has provided a framework for tech companies to operate in and has provided clarity. We are waiting for the rules to get written out. But I would say that this is a great step in balancing user protection with innovations…because that is what will power India techade so we welcome constructive regulation and let’s see where we go from here,” she said.

India is one of the biggest markets for social media companies such as Meta, Google, and X (formerly Twitter), with its booming smartphone sales and availability of dirt cheap data supercharging growth for digital platforms.

That said, social media companies, over the past years, have drawn flak globally and in India over issues of user harm and the circulation of misinformation, hate speech, and fake news on their platforms. There is also a growing discontent among a section of users who allege that digital platforms have been indulging in arbitrary acts in taking down content, or not responding fast enough to grievances, despite users red-flagging them.

India has tightened rules for social media companies, increasing their accountability to users. In fact, the government has time and again emphasised that safety and trust are public policy objectives and mission, and it will do all it takes to ensure suitable safeguards are in place for digital citizens navigating online and social media space.

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