In brief

  • Facebook has launched WhatsApp Pay in Brazil.
  • The payment feature within the messaging app is remarkably simple to use.
  • Assuming a wider rollout down the road, WhatsApp Pay essentially accomplishes what Facebook's Libra and Telegram's TON initially set out to do.

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp announced yesterday that its new WhatsApp Pay feature is live. Users can now send and receive money instantly through the messaging app—but only in Brazil, so far.

Despite beta testing the feature in India for years, Brazil is the first country with support for WhatsApp Pay, and Brazilian users will now have the functionality available via an app update. The service is open to those who link their accounts to a debit or credit card from Banco do Brasil (Brazil's largest bank), Nubank (Brazil's largest Fintech), and/or Sicredi (Brazil's largest financial cooperative).

The process of sending a payment in WhatsApp is remarkably simple, and not unlike sending a photo or a voice note in the app. Just open up a conversation with a person to whom you want to send money, click on the clip icon, select the payment option, and choose the amount to be sent. WhatsApp takes care of the rest through a partnership between Facebook and local payment processor Cielo.

Users also have the option to request payments, though they must enter some additional data for the transaction to be processed successfully.

WhatsApp ensures that the entire process will be encrypted and will require the use of a unique pin or the customer's biometric information to avoid the potential for fraud. And while Facebook indicated that WhatsApp Pay makes use of Facebook Pay's infrastructure, it promised to secure its customers' personal data—for real this time.

"WhatsApp and Facebook will not automatically use your payment account and transaction details to inform the ads that you see," a WhatsApp representative said in a statement published by the Financial Times. The rep clarified, however, that individual businesses could use certain user information "for advertising purposes"—so make of that what you will.

Once in possession of that data, "the business has a responsibility to ensure that it handles your data in accordance with its privacy policy and applicable law," the WhatsApp rep said. 

With this initiative, Facebook would be getting a kind of workaround to implement a payment system without the need to use its Libra cryptocurrency. The new feature also essentially accomplishes what fellow messaging app Telegram had in mind when it developed its now abandoned TON blockchain.

Recently, Libra changed its features in an attempt to assuage global regulators who feared Facebook’s aspirations in the financial world through crypto were a bridge too far. But given Facebook’s history of handling its customers’ personal data, all eyes might soon shift over to WhatsApp Pay once it hits the US, UK, and the rest of the globe.