Have You Had Enough Of WhatsApp Yet? 


India is the largest market for WhatsApp and the government’s eyes are trained on any slip-up for such an influential platform including the recent spate of spam calls

I don’t get spam SMSes any longer or any SMSes at all. The spammers have also migrated to WhatsApp, and frankly, this is a lot more bothersome than receiving unwanted text messages.

While SMS was largely restricted to Indian businesses and spammers due to telecom charges for international texting, WhatsApp’s global nature makes these spam calls a bigger problem.

Plus, the fact that spam attacks have coincided with global macroeconomic slowdown means spammers have more than enough ammunition to entrap unsuspecting users. India is after all the largest market for WhatsApp and the government’s eyes are trained on any slip-up for such an influential platform.

Will Meta-owned WhatsApp’s recent announcement of plans to block spammers work? Let’s take a look after these top stories from our newsroom this past week:

  • Ashneer On EOW Radar: With the EOW registering an FIR against Ashneer Grover for allegedly defrauding BharatPe of INR 81 Cr, the focus turns to what fate awaits the ousted founder and others in this case
  • Startups Take On IAMAI: Indian startups continue to fight the IAMAI, over its opposition to the anti-competition law, accusing the industry body of being ‘anti-India and pro-foreign’
  • Unicorns Fly Back Home: After PhonePe’s move to India, fintech unicorns Razorpay and Groww are also looking to bring their HQs back home. Will others also board the ‘Desh Wapsi’ train?

What’s Up With WhatsApp

If your question is why spammers and scamsters have turned to WhatsApp, the answer lies in the popularity of the app. There’s a reason online spam started through emails and then moved to SMS. As one medium grows, businesses chase that as a marketing channel and naturally spammers too.

Even though spam is a nuisance, it’s still something of a business for spammers and scamsters, albeit an illegitimate one in most cases.

“WhatsApp has become the default messaging platform for most of the world. Emails were the primary online communication tool at one point, so we would get spam emails and then these bad actors moved to SMS, and now WhatsApp,” says the cofounder of a Mumbai-based digital marketing agency, which was acquired by a global media investment giant.

Of course, like email spam, WhatsApp is not limited by telecom infrastructure in each geography. It does not involve SMS gateway charges and if spammers don’t set up a business account, there’s hardly any limit on how many messages or calls they can make.

Will WhatsApp Marketing Take A Beating?

“What is happening with WhatsApp? So much spam. So much,” tweeted Unacademy cofounder and CEO Gaurav Munjal, earlier this week.

India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, with close to 500 Mn users, so there’s little doubt that this problem is affecting Indian users more than others. Spam is not new to WhatsApp. The app is a legitimate marketing channel for brands and businesses.

For instance, last year, several Indians complained about businesses messaging them on WhatsApp even without consent. Even after blocking numbers, businesses return to a user’s WhatsApp inbox from different phone numbers.

Usually, such practices by brands and businesses, if reported, attract a penalty from WhatsApp. But spam calls from non-Business users are definitely not governed by WhatsApp Business terms and conditions. As per reports in December 2022, WhatsApp has 15 Mn Business users in India.

And it’s really hard to verify the identity of any particular user on WhatsApp. One can set their name to be anything for instance and the profile picture can also be manipulated to make spam seem legit. A chunk of the recent spam calls (audio and video) and texts seemingly originated from Indonesia (+62), Vietnam (+84), Malaysia (+60), Kenya (+254) and Ethiopia (+251).

But many of these spammers are using temporary mobile numbers to contact users and simply switch to another number when the app blocks them. These mobile numbers can be purchased online for a small fee and often do not require a separate SIM either. A simple Google search reveals a host of websites offering temporary numbers to send and receive messages.

The Lure Of Easy Income

The problem is not the spam calls themselves, but the fact that spammers are able to convince users that these are genuine offers. As we reported earlier this week, spammers  claim to offer easy work-from-home jobs that seem innocuous enough at first glance, but can end up costing targets dearly.

In our investigation, we found that spammers directed users to like specific videos on YouTube. Then the spammers promise hefty commissions for this simple task, and after completion users are added to a Telegram channel where they are asked to make payments in exchange for a higher payout in a few days.

Then we were told that to withdraw commissions, we had to submit personal details, including bank account details. And that’s where the scam happens.

Zerodha cofounder Nikhil Kamath tweeted earlier this month that an acquaintance was duped of INR 5 Lakh through a similar part-time job offer on WhatsApp. Another individual has reportedly lost more than INR 6 Lakh due to a similar scam.

For many users, the prospect of earning money is hard to resist at a time when layoffs are rampant and pay cuts have become commonplace. As employees go through the downsizing churn, they are looking at each and every means to earn some income on the side.

Will WhatsApp’s Systems Stand Up To Spam?

The new crisis seems to have worsened matters for WhatsApp in India, which has previously been scrutinised by domestic regulators, particularly over privacy policy and data localisation. Indeed the government has asked WhatsApp to explain the spam attacks among other potential privacy violations.

This past week, India’s Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that the IT ministry will send a notice to Meta to stop the rising incidents of spams.

Of course, there’s also no way for authorities to intervene in cases where funds have been transferred by the user to the spammer. The victim has to lodge a police complaint and often this does not happen due to the stigma factor or long-drawn legal proceedings.

In response to the government and public pressure, WhatsApp has said that it will ramp up its AI/ML-based spam monitoring systems to tackle the rising spate of spam calls.

“WhatsApp is a leader among end-to-end encrypted services in protecting user safety. We continue to provide several safety tools within WhatsApp like Block & Report, consistently build user safety education and awareness, as well as, proactively weed out bad-actors from our platform. However, bad actors find different ways to scam users. International scam calls are a new way that bad actors have recently adopted,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.

But as with any protective net for communications, the changes by WhatsApp may end up impacting some legitimate businesses or communications as well. At the moment, it’s not clear how the company is looking to reduce the spam rate by 50% as it has claimed in the wake of these spam attacks.

For now, Indians have little recourse but to examine each and every interaction on WhatsApp. WhatsApp has become the de facto platform for news, entertainment, remote business operations and even a commerce channel for brands. But this unwelcome attention is likely to make many think twice about their WhatsApp habit.

Startup Spotlight: WAAYU Looks To Take On Swiggy, Zomato

The buzz around ONDC has changed the food delivery game and could well disrupt the duopoly of Swiggy and Zomato. But these giants also have to contend with a new player on the block — Suniel Shetty-backed WAAYU.

The no-commission platform took off on May 8 and its alliance with restaurant body AHAR is a key advantage in bringing restaurants on board. Besides this, WAAYU claims its instant payments, tie-ups with delivery providers and even support for a restaurant’s in-house delivery fleet are key differentiators for restaurants.

The startup has kicked things off in Mumbai and plans to expand to Pune in the next few months. Can WAAYU dethrone Swiggy, Zomato? 

Sunday Roundup: Startup Funding, Tech Stocks & More

  • Funding Plummets: Even in sweltering May, the funding winter continues to rage on. Indian startups raised just over $72 Mn this past week, plunging from $174 Mn last week
  • Will Paytm Bounce Back? After Paytm’s encouraging numbers in FY23, brokerages are bullish on the stock, even though fintech giant ended the week 1% lower than last week

  • Markdown Season: Swiggy, Ola, Pharmeasy and Pine Labs all saw markdowns in their valuation this past week. How long before we see startups unceremoniously exit the unicorn club?
  • PhonePe’s ONDC Bet: A month into its launch, PhonePe’s ONDC app Pincode claims to have surpassed 50,000 users and over 5000 daily orders in Bengaluru

We’ll be back next Sunday with more. TIll then, follow us on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest news as it happens.

You have reached your limit of free stories
Become An Inc42 Plus Member

Become a Startup Insider in 2024 with Inc42 Plus. Join our exclusive community of 10,000+ founders, investors & operators and stay ahead in India’s startup & business economy.

Unlock 60% OFF
Cancel Anytime
Unlock 50% OFF
Cancel Anytime
Already A Member?
Discover Startups & Business Models

Unleash your potential by exploring unlimited articles, trackers, and playbooks. Identify the hottest startup deals, supercharge your innovation projects, and stay updated with expert curation.

Have You Had Enough Of WhatsApp Yet? -Inc42 Media
How-To’s on Starting & Scaling Up

Empower yourself with comprehensive playbooks, expert analysis, and invaluable insights. Learn to validate ideas, acquire customers, secure funding, and navigate the journey to startup success.

Have You Had Enough Of WhatsApp Yet? -Inc42 Media
Identify Trends & New Markets

Access 75+ in-depth reports on frontier industries. Gain exclusive market intelligence, understand market landscapes, and decode emerging trends to make informed decisions.

Have You Had Enough Of WhatsApp Yet? -Inc42 Media
Track & Decode the Investment Landscape

Stay ahead with startup and funding trackers. Analyse investment strategies, profile successful investors, and keep track of upcoming funds, accelerators, and more.

Have You Had Enough Of WhatsApp Yet? -Inc42 Media
Have You Had Enough Of WhatsApp Yet? -Inc42 Media
You’re in Good company