WRONG MESSAGE

WhatsApp has triggered a Twitter war between India’s e-payment giants

Quartz india
Quartz india

WhatsApp’s entry into India’s crowded online payments ecosystem has set off a public spat among the homegrown players.

Just days after the messaging service’s new feature quietly debuted, the country’s e-payments posterboy, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, took to Twitter.

In a tweet on Feb. 14, the founder and CEO of Paytm accused WhatsApp of using the Indian government-backed Unified Payment Interface (UPI) to create a closed garden by restricting transactions to its own users only. UPI is a payment system that makes inter-bank transfers easier for customers.

In his tweet, Sharma compared this move to Facebook’s Free Basics idea, which was met with aggressive opposition in India.

“Facebook is openly colonising our payment system and is customising UPI to their benefit. UPI was built as an India Stack, now some American monopoly arm-twists UPI for customer implementation,” Sharma told the Economic Times newspaper.

IndiaStack is a set of codes developed around Aadhaar, which can be used to develop digital solutions.

While India’s entrepreneurial community had almost unanimously supported the opposition to Free Basics in 2015, this time, Sharma received a ton of bricks.

Bipin Preet Singh, CEO of Paytm’s rival, Mobikwik, hit back without naming Sharma.

Singh was not alone. Amrish Rau, CEO of another rival, PayU, took a dig at Sharma.

Kunal Shah, founder and former CEO of e-payments company Freecharge, also disagreed with Sharma, even using yoga guru Ramdev-owned consumer goods company, Patanjali, as an example.

And, as expected, the Indian-vs-outsider line of the debate soon veered towards China’s Alibaba, Paytm’s biggest investor.

Update: In a statement, Deepak Abbot, Paytm’s senior vice president said: “We believe India is an open market that welcomes tech and business innovations from across the world. However, WhatsApp’s UPI payments system is a classic case of a large company with dominating distribution abusing an open platform via custom-implementation to gain undue advantage. We believe this model of making an interoperable identifier invisible affects the core principle of UPI payments.”

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