WhatsApp Details Features, Services It Offered in India in 2021, From COVID-19 Resources to a QR Camera

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WhatsApp on Thursday released a year-end review of 2021 to provide a look back at the key highlights of its new feature launches and services offered in India — its biggest market — throughout the year. The instant messaging app was used by various state governments and civic bodies in the country to provide COVID-19 related information and resources to citizens. It also enabled users to book COVID-19 vaccines. Alongside essential services, WhatsApp introduced features including View Once for media content and encrypted backups to offer an improved use experience this year. WhatsApp also expanded its payments feature in India in 2021.

WhatsApp initiatives to help fight against COVID-19

The year 2021 brought a drastic impact of COVID-19 in India. While the traditional government resources lacked at many levels, 15 state governments launched dedicated COVID-19 helplines on WhatsApp to provide access to resources and vaccination appointment bookings. Central and state administrations also used the WhatsApp Business platform to connect with citizens and drive COVID-19 vaccinations across the country.

The central government partnered with the instant messaging app owned by Meta (previously known as Facebook) in 2020 to launch the MyGov Corona Helpdesk. It was updated earlier this year to offer features including COVID-19 vaccine appointment bookings and certificate downloads. WhatsApp claimed that over 55 million people have so far reached out to the MyGov Corona Helpdesk bot and over 12 million vaccine certificates have been downloaded till date. It is also touted to help book millions of vaccination appointments in the country.

WhatsApp features introduced in 2021 to improve user experience

In 2021, WhatsApp introduced ephemerality features including View Once and Default Disappearing Mode with multiple durations to help provide additional privacy to users. The app also added features such as Message level reporting to let users report accounts by flagging a specific message and encrypted backup to enhance user safety.

For an upgraded user experience, WhatsApp brought features including Desktop Calling, Archive 2.0, Joinable group calls, and Cross platform migration. It also launched new sticker packs, Media web editor on the Web, and stickers in status.

WhatsApp payments updates in 2021

Alongside other new features, WhatsApp payments also received a list of updates. One of them was the new payment shortcut that is available across platforms including Android and iOS to ease payments through the app. It also brought Stickers in Pay Mode and cashbacks to convince more users in the country to pay using WhatsApp. Further, WhatsApp reportedly received approval to double its payments offering in the country to 40 million users from the existing 20 million limit.

WhatsApp also enabled the Camera icon on its app to scan QR codes to effectively provide access to over 20 million QR-enabled stores in the country. It also recently started a pilot programme in 500 villages across Karnataka and Maharashtra to onboard the next 500 million Indian users to the digital payments ecosystem and help boost financial inclusion in the country.

WhatsApp for Business updates in 2021

WhatsApp recently announced its partnership with Uber to let users book their cabs through the official Uber chatbot in the app. It was a global-first WhatsApp Business platform integration for the cab aggregator. In addition to Uber, Bharat Petroleum utilised WhatsApp Business to launch its chatbot called Urja to help provide self service experiences for B2C and B2B use-cases. Indian Oil Corporation also used WhatsApp API platform to enable gas bookings, booking status check, and loyalty points updates.

Aside from serving corporates and companies including Uber through the business platform, WhatsApp claimed that its Business app has been used by more than 15 million small and micro businesses. WhatsApp also tied up with trade union Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). The partnership is claimed to help enable women farmers from Kashmir to sell thousands of kilograms of apples and cherries to customers in Gujarat.

WhatsApp is also working with Maharashtra-based organisation Mann Deshi Foundation to offer workshops for women on various aspects of digital and financial literacy and educate them using the WhatsApp Business app.

As of July 2019, WhatsApp has 400 million users in India. The app is also infamous for boosting fake news and misinformation in the country, though it often brings updates to address these concerns to some extent. It also faced strong criticism among users, civil societies, and governments around the world in 2021 for its privacy policy update that it eventually put on hold in July.


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