« What if: WhatsApp as a foundation of Digital Governance

June 2, 2019 • ☕️ 3 min read

For the purpose of this article, we use WhatsApp as an example because of it being completely immersed in India sub-culture.

Identity

Originally we had a name that was used to identify us. If we went to a shop or to a friend we would mention our name and they would be able to mentally pull up a backfground info about us. For example what kind of person we were, could they trust us and whether they are ok lending something to us. We added out family name to our first name to be able to extend this set of background data to our families. Because we grew up in closed knit communities, it was safe to assume that a child had very similar qualities to their parents. Our address was our messaging mechanism. We would communicate with bus

Skip forward to the internet and email became the means of identification as well as messaging. Plastic money called credit cards moved from the physical domain into electronic domain with PayPal continuing to use the concept of an email address as a means of payment.

Later with rise of mobile phone apps, it was much more easier to use the phone number as a means of auth. Today, my phone number has become my unique ID in this country. More than my Aadhaar number of my PAN number — my phone number has much more data about everything that I do. Messaging, banking, login to apps everything operates based on this 10 digit number. Losing access to this number in today’s age is serious — just like getting a house robbed in the olden days.

But a new layer of infra is coming up that is set to make the concept of a phone number irrelevant.

A lot of phone calls and text messaging is moving to the internet — with rise of messaging apps. These apps have their own identification and messaging constructs. Over time they have also added payments.

Let’s talk about INdia. Here WhatsApp is the most common app that one might have. Initially Whatsapp was just an alternative to SMS, and it extended the concept of a phone number by using it as your ID on WhatsApp (compared to the earlier days of AIM usernames and BBM pins).

Over time WhatsApp added phone calls and video calls. Carriers have tried to compete with this by introducing VoLTE calls — which are essentially phone calls over 4G using an open standard.

Now WhatApp has added payments as well and I think they are just one step away from becoming core infrastructure for everything we do.

WhatsApp login would be a way to login to apps using WhatsApp. Once you are logged in, you can manage payments and messaging with that business via WhatsApp.

Over time as India becomes more government controlled, there will be more and more surveillance of money spending via Aadhar and UPI. Also cash has been demonised as demonetised.

Hence I look forward to the surge of some other form of currency that can be used for under the table transactions and currently my mind is on crypto currency

Another trend I want to keep an eye on is the rise in importance of the phone number. It is almost a universal identifier for a person even more so that their e-mail ID. And it’s much more public than any other form of ID like Aadhar or PAN.

What I mean to say is that given my phone number, there is almost everything to be found about me and all online accounts can be controlled using OTP password reset.

This is not comfortable. I foresee a rise of some other form of auth mechanism. Similar to how phone took over from email ID.

Currently I am thinking it will be some sort of crypto based thing. The phone device will generate a random token and then use that for login to all services.

This is technically a phone number itself. It starts out as a random 10 digit number but slowly becomes a very important part of or life.

That means there is something that will occur on the phone number side of things. Especially because concept of cellular call switching is going away.

This is taking me in the direction of a WhatsApp based auth system. Imagine SMS OTP auth but over WhatsApp.

Like a cross between Facebook login and SMS based OTP.

This will be more secure with longer auth codes and no need for manual typing.

WhatsApp is currently tackling payments and based on above thinking they might tackle auth next. Especially if they dig into merchant payments.

WhatsApp OAuth