WhatsApp Pay: Does Vijay Shekhar of Paytm Protect Too Much?
A week or so ago, other than the rather inflammatory, if not unsurprising comments about Facebook being "evil", Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma raised some policy issues regarding governance at the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) that, among other things, runs the mobile payment infrastructure structure, unified payment interface (UPI).
 
NPCI is a bank-owned non-profit company, which Mr. Sharma claimed should be an unbiased facilitator. And, by allowing WhatsApp to use UPI under seemingly different standards than others, NPCI has broken that unwritten promise to the consumer to be a consistent facilitator for all companies.
 
Unified Payment Interface or UPI is an instant real-time payment system developed by NPCI for inter-bank transactions. UPI is regulated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). It works by instantly transferring funds between two bank accounts on a mobile platform. This is distinct from the way wallets work which take a specified amount of money from users and stores the money in the wallets own accounts. In contrast, UPI withdraws and deposits funds directly from the bank account whenever a transaction is requested.
 
Now leaving the commentary from the PayTM CEO about Facebook alone, the concept that the NPCI is a purveyor of pure unbiased good for the banking industry is just plain pollyannish at best and populist rhetoric at worst.
 
While the NPCI and it is UPI implementation has completely changed the mobile payments landscape for the better, the fact is that NPCI is 75% owned by 10 banks. They funded the majority of the founding and ongoing expenses are therefore going to make decisions that optimise their own interests. They may have structured things so that UPI is "accessible" to anyone, but in reality, the rollout has not been completely transparent. And to be fair, it's quite hard, in a highly technical area as well as a resource constrained environment, to allow everyone access at once. Practical needs will dictate access on a serial basis with some prioritisation of the access.
 
In theory, in an open platform, which is fair and transparent, all players get access to all features at the same time, assuming they meet certain requirements. In this case, wallets were (and still are) kept out of the UPI ecosystem and there is no timeline to allow them in. In fact, the NPCI's ex-CEO has gone on public record stating that they have made decisions for competitive reasons that exclude things like wallets, not to mention other RBI authorized payment mechanisms.
 
On the topic of Facebook or WhatsApp not playing fairly, that is not new either, nor unexpected. It is rare for companies with the leverage that WhatsApp or Facebook have to play completely "fairly". They are in the business of making money, and in this case that means keeping WhatsApp users in their own walled ecosystem. Why would they allow a WhatsApp user to completely change the user experience of over a billion users by suddenly asking them to login, or to allow them to transfer payments to a UPI ID rather than to another WhatsApp user?
 
Let us address both of these points. First, if  NPCI is expected to facilitate a cashless society, it is probably a good idea to allow the hundreds of millions of WhatsApp users in India to have access to UPI through WhatsApp. Forcing the WhatsApp user to transfer money to another UPI ID, whether or not they are a WhatsApp user, is a fine thing to do, but requires some strong oversight and follow through at the NPCI end. The WhatsApp UPI user-interface makes it clear that either there was little thought  given to the user experience for UPI access, or it was rushed through, or both.
 
On the second point of missing login and security protocols, alleged by PayTM's founder, to fundamentally change the way WhatsApp operates (in order to maintain consistency between all users) is a draconian method of enforcing a rule. The idea of allowing millions of WhatsApp users to have the ability to use UPI has clearly taken precedence. By making sure that the liability for an incorrect or fraudulent transaction to be handled by WhatsApp or the banks is the better approach, assuming it's enforced properly. The NPCI claims to have done this and there is a circular to that effect.
 
It is quite clear that NPCI afforded Facebook and WhatsApp a slightly different set of rules for the use and utilization of UPI than others, as Mr. Sharma was quick to point out. But in business, especially big ones, things are not always 100% fair and Mr. Sharma ostensibly knows that. The real source of his irritation was, and is more likely that suddenly millions of users have UPI access for cashless transactions that do not need to use Paytm.
 
Large social networks like Google and Facebook and Snapchat have a captive set of users, who they will definitely attempt to keep in their own walled gardens rather than use 3rd party payment mechanisms outside their environments. That is the real reason for the outburst.
 
 (Jayant Kadambi is entrepreneur, technologist, and business leader who led his most recent company, YuMe, to an IPO as a global leader in digital media technology.  Jayant is based in Silicon Valley and is spending his time as an advisor, board member, and angel investor.)
 
 
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    Data Protection for Consumers
    Policy-makers and politicians are hell-bent on dragging us into a shining ‘Digital India’. But have they even bothered to check if we have the basic infrastructure in place or if there is any law to protect the consumer of this digital ‘moh maya’. Result? Data of every consumer is at the mercy of hackers (to attack us) and the government (to protect us). Currently, in India, there is no law or framework to protect consumers from data-theft or hacking. And there is no effective and fast grievance redress mechanism either. 
     
    In our day-to-day lives, we, as consumers, share our personal information with private companies or government. However, it is not limited to the information we feed in the forms or fields. Companies can easily collect information about the websites we visit, our Smartphones and apps installed, and even the places we visit often. Using all such information, they can create a complete profile of the user and her interests. Scary, isn’t it? 
    In most cases, it is difficult for a common consumer to know, and thus make an informed decision, about sharing private data or information. We do not know if the personal information we are sharing is safe and secure with service-providers like Google or Facebook. We do not know what types of security measures are used by service-providers to protect our data. And, remember, I am talking about two of the biggest companies that are solely dependent on online data consumption.
     
    The less said the better for smaller companies and even the government, when it comes to protecting our data. Data protection is a costly affair; small companies cannot afford these costs and thus end up compromising our information. In the government, the majority of employees, who access data, are digital migrants or have shifted to computers from physical files and typewriters. They either fail to understand the consequences of data breach or they do not care. In most government offices, the official’s interaction with common people starts and ends with a physical form or application. Therefore, when it comes to carrying out digital interactions, they presume that every information on their PC is safely stored like the physical files in their ‘locked storeroom’. 
     
    The government and Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) continue to maintain that there is no data breach or hacking in respect of Aadhaar and at the Central Identities Database Repository (CIDR). Last year, in July, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha, the minister of state for electronics, PP Chaudhary, however, admitted that personal identity or information of the residents including the Aadhaar number and demographic information, along with sensitive data like bank account, collected by government were ‘reportedly’ published online. Instead of destroying such stored and published data, all the government ordered was to ‘discontinue with immediate effect’ such practices.
     
    UIDAI was set up without a data protection law. After collecting data from millions of residents, we are now in framing rules and regulation for data protection! Will we have defined standards for data storage and protection along with fixing liabilities, enforcement and quick grievance redress in case of data breach?
     
    Until that happens, it is better for everyone to be more careful with what we share about our personal information and with whom. There is no point in making tall claims like: ‘I don’t have anything to hide so why should I not share’? Sharing information without proper precaution may not only harm you but may also endanger others associated with you. A false sense of ‘bravery’ does not work in cyberspace. What works and protects the user is precaution. 
     
    As I always recommend, share personal data or information only on a need-to-know basis. If the online form requires you to give the name of the city, then do not share your complete address. Be wary of sharing data with any website that lacks the security protocol in URL; it must be https and not just http. Lastly, keep track or preserve the records of your digital data-sharing. 
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    Spyglass: An Offline GPS App
    If you go hiking or on adventure rides to unknown places, which have low or no connectivity, be sure to carry the Spyglass app. Spyglass is an essential offline GPS app for outdoors and off-road navigation. Packed with tools, it serves as binoculars, heads-up display, hi-tech compass with offline maps, gyrocompass, GPS receiver, waypoint tracker, speedometer, altimeter, sun, moon and Polaris star finder, gyro horizon, rangefinder, sextant, inclinometer, angular calculator and camera. It saves a custom location, navigates precisely to it later, shows it on maps and, using augmented reality, displays detailed GPS info, measures distances, sizes, angles and does a lot more.
     
    Spyglass operates in 3D and uses augmented reality to show object positions, info and directions to them overlaid over camera or maps. You can save current position, add a point from maps and manually enter location coordinates. And find the saved place later simply by following directional arrows. Spyglass will make you feel like James Bond—whether you’re exploring in the woods or just trying to find your Honda in the mall parking lot.
     
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