WhatsApp has started identifying "legal" names of users who have enabled the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) based payments feature on its app. These names, which are the ones associated with the bank accounts of the users and might be different from profile names, will also be shown to people who receive payments through WhatsApp. The new move is a result of UPI guidelines set by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) that are aimed to prevent fraud, the Meta-owned instant messaging app said.
To inform users about the update, WhatsApp has started giving a notification in its app that carries a link to an FAQ page detailing the legal name requirement.
"When you use payments on WhatsApp, other UPI users will be able to view your legal name. This is the same name on your bank account," the FAQ page reads.
The notification has been started rolling out to users on both Android and iOS since late March — following the guidelines issued by the NPCI. It appears in the Help section of WhatsApp as a new shortcut named About UPI payments and legal name that carries the link to the FAQ page.
WhatsApp is giving the link to its FAQ page related to legal name requirement in the Help section
"The name associated with your bank account is the name that will be shared," the FAQ page says.
Normally, WhatsApp users have the choice to pick any name of up to 25 characters that they wanted to use on the app. They can also include emojis to their profile name to make it look distinctive. The new requirement has, however, made it obligatory for the app to identify and share the real names of its users, via a UPI screen when making payments, as per their bank accounts when they signed up for the payments feature.
"To prevent fraud, UPI guidelines stipulate that the recipient name is displayed to the sender in the course of the transaction," a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement to Gadgets 360. "WhatsApp displays the recipient name on the UPI PIN screen in line with this compliance requirement and the practice of all UPI apps."
Although other UPI-based payments apps do require precise user details including their legal name at the time of signups, the same requirement by WhatsApp is seen with a different view by some privacy advocates.
"Traditional payments apps came as pure payment products where it was implicit that linking bank accounts and legal names will be shared," said Srikanth Lakshmanan, a coordinator at consumer awareness collective Cashless Consumer. "But WhatsApp is plugging payments into a social media app — which never warranted legal names."
Prateek Waghre, Policy Director of digital rights advocacy group-based Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), agreed with Lakshmanan and said that users had to be cautious about the way they would use UPI payments and chat on the same thing.
"Just because you make payment from WhatsApp doesn't necessarily mean you want to give someone your full legal name. I think that is something that WhatsApp has to think through in terms of how they can protect users' privacy in this use case," Waghre said.
Lakshmanan also raised a hypothetical concern — for which Waghre also expressed his worry — that Meta could eventually be able to link Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger profiles of users with their legal names available on WhatsApp. However, the WhatsApp spokesperson explicitly denied Meta's access to users' legal name.
"Meta does not have access when WhatsApp displays this [legal] name," the spokesperson said.
Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director of public-policy think-tank The Dialogue, said that the requirement of legal names by WhatsApp was nothing but a regular compliance requisite needed by all payment apps.
"As a messaging platform, WhatsApp provides liberty to its users to use the name of their choice," he stated.
For quite some time, WhatsApp is trying hard to grow the adoption of its payments feature in the country. The app last month received NPCI's nod to expand its feature to 100 million users. It also recently started giving cashback rewards to people making payments through WhatsApp.