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WhatsApp Pay Gains Approval for Expansion in India, Boosting Facebook’s eCommerce Push

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In another important step in Facebook’s ongoing efforts to become the critical tech infrastructure element in the emerging Indian market, the Indian Government has this week approved an expansion of payments within WhatsApp, opening the door for the next stage of Facebook’s eCommerce push.

As reported by TechCrunch:

“National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the body that operates the widely popular UPI payments infrastructure, said on Thursday evening that it has granted approval to WhatsApp to roll out UPI-powered payments in India.

That could provide new opportunities for Facebook to greatly expand its WhatsApp marketplace, which is already a significant element in the developing region. 

Indeed, WhatsApp, the most used messaging app in the nation, has become a central platform for its evolving eCommerce tools, and with payments now becoming more readily available, that will enable Facebook to fuel more business activity within the app.

Shortly after securing the new agreement, WhatsApp also announced the capacity to send payments within the app.

That’s also a key step – more money is sent into India via remittance, or transfers back to family and friends, than any other nation, according to the The World Bank. If Facebook can get more people transferring funds within the app, that will likely lead to more commerce activity, as the funds are already there, and transfers will become more commonplace, even habitual.

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Facebook has already invested big in the Indian market, buying a $US5.7 billion stake in local internet provider Reliance Jio back in April, as well as acquiring online shopping platforms like Meesho, which facilitates commerce in WhatsApp.

Meesho

If WhatsApp can also host more in-stream payments, it could become the critical connective app for the market, following the lead of Chinese messaging apps, like WeChat, which is now an essential companion for over a billion Chinese citizens as they go about their everyday lives.

Over the past few years, India has emerged as a key element in Facebook’s empire-expansion plans, with The Social Network working to gain approval from Indian regulators to expand its presence in the region, particularly in relation to in-stream payments and facilitating eCommerce.

Thus far, however, the company has come up against various roadblocks. Indian authorities blocked Facebook’s original ‘Free Basics’ program back in 2015 due to concerns around how Facebook was looking to dominate web access, while the Indian Government has also clashed with Facebook management at various points over the content it allows (and doesn’t) within the app. 

Given the dominance of Facebook in the social media market, Indian authorities are skeptical of ceding too much control over web access to the company. Yet, with WhatsApp, India seems more open. Which is why Facebook is now making a bigger push to increase its presence through its messaging app, which has already become a key communications and connection platform in the region.

Facebook had hoped to be able to boost its payments service by facilitating fee-free exchanges within its apps via its Libra cryptocurrency offering, but that program has faced its own difficulties, delaying its launch. Facilitating more payments within WhatsApp is essentially the next best thing, and while Facebook will still be beholden to local banking regulation, it will have increased capacity to introduce WhatsApp Pay to more users, which could quickly make it a key offering.

This may not have much impact in Western markets, but it’s a major development, and could be a major step in taking Facebook’s payments programs to the next level. If Facebook can become the digital connective element that links Indian citizens to payments, data collection, communications, Facebook essentially becomes the wallet of the next generation, a critical companion in all elements of daily life.

And with 1.3 billion citizens, and growing, that could give the company a major advantage.    

It’s still early days, but this will be a key area of focus for The Social Network moving forward.

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Meta Launches New Legal Proceedings Against Data Scraping, Helping to Establish Precedent Around Misuse

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Meta Implements New Changes to Housing, Employment and Credit Ads to Eliminate Potential Discrimination

Meta has launched two new legal actions against data scraping sites, which have extracted user data from both Instagram and Facebook for unauthorized use, while it’s also seen a new victory in its battle against platform misuse, with a court ruling in its favor in another case related to clone sites.

First off, on its new actions – Meta has launched legal proceedings against two companies that offer data scraping services, which illegally use people’s uploaded info for unintended purpose.

As explained by Meta:

The first action is against a company called Octopus, a US subsidiary of a Chinese national high-tech enterprise that claims to have over one million customers. Octopus offers scraping services and access to software that customers can use to scrape any website. For a fee, Octopus customers can launch scraping attacks from its cloud-based platform or hire Octopus to scrape websites directly. Octopus offers to scrape data from Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Yelp, Google, Target, Walmart, Indeed, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.”

Meta says that Octopus’ system is able to extract data about people’s Facebook Friends ‘such as email address, phone number, gender and date of birth, as well as Instagram followers and engagement information, such as name, user profile URL, location and number of likes and comments per post’.

That’s information that users never intended to be utilized in this way, and Meta’s looking to establish clearer legal standing on this type of misuse.

The second company that Meta has launched legal action against is managed by a single operator in Turkey, and has been using automated Instagram accounts to scrape data from the profiles of over 350,000 Instagram users.

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“These profiles were viewable to logged-in Instagram users. The Defendant published the scraped data on his own websites or “clone sites.” A clone site is a website that copies and displays Instagram profiles, posts and other information without authorization.”

Both seem like fairly clear-cut violations of Meta’s terms of service, but the legal technicalities of online data scraping are not so definitive, with LinkedIn currently engaged in a years-long battle over a similar data-scraping case, in which users’ publicly available LinkedIn info is being used to power an external employee database and recruitment site.

In the most recent finding in this case, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that scraping data that’s publicly accessible on the internet isn’t in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, despite users not explicitly providing consent for their information to be utilized by third-party providers in this way.

That case will no doubt also be used in the defense against Meta’s latest legal actions – but as Meta outlines, there is a variance here in that the information gathered by these tools is not publicly accessible, as such, which is part of the reason why Meta has gradually locked down Facebook and Instagram data more and more over the years, giving the company more definitive legal grounding in any such misuse.

That could lead to a new legal precedent for such, which may not necessarily help in LinkedIn’s case – but then again, LinkedIn has also been moving to lock down more of its user data to combat the same, which could eventually see any ruling apply to all such cases.

Either way, the misuse of user data in this way is clearly a violation of privacy, as it’s taking people’s personal info without consent. One way or another, it seems that the laws around such need to be updated – and maybe, these new cases from Meta can advance the argument in this respect.

Which is what Meta’s been trying to do with its various legal cases against platform misuse. And recently, it had a victory, with a court ruling that another operator that had been scraping Instagram user data to fuel clone sites was guilty of misuse.

As per Meta:

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In 2020, we filed an action against a defendant scraping people’s publicly-visible information from Instagram in order to create a network of clone sites. This was a violation of our Terms of Service and we filed a lawsuit in order to protect our users. The Court recently issued a final judgment in our favor and found Defendant liable for scraping data from Instagram users and republishing it on his clones sites. The Defendant was ordered by the Court to pay over $200,000 and is banned from using Facebook or Instagram.”

Each ruling in Meta’s favor helps to establish clearer precedent, and as it continues to launch new legal proceedings in order to reiterate the significance of data scraping and misuse, that, ideally, will further build Meta’s broader case load to solidify legal standing.

Which will see more of this type of activity outlawed and penalized, and will ultimately disincentive fraud in the space. It takes time, as each case needs to go through the legal process (as per this recent ruling), but Meta continues to establish stronger foundations for future cases with every step.

Which is another way to evolve the laws around such, embedding rulings by proxy, which will help to address such as clear legal violations in future. 

There’s a way to go, on several fronts, but Meta’s legal procedures help to build the foundations of law around these evolving forms of data misuse.

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