This Article is From Feb 18, 2021

Exclusive: Government Develops Its Own WhatsApp, It's Being Tested Now

The biggest advantage of this app will be that "we will never have to worry about data being stolen and used for commercial gains by big tech".

Sandes: The two apps are presently in beta stage, said sources

New Delhi:

Amid the raging controversy over privacy on WhatsApp, the government is planning a whole new approach - its own version of the messaging app.

Sources in the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology (MeITY) have confirmed to NDTV that two such apps are being tested in their beta stage. They have been codenamed Samvad and Sandes, literally "conversation" and "message", respectively.

"These apps are being developed completely by the government of India. It is going to be an instant messaging app like WhatsApp," said a MeITY functionary. NDTV has learnt that the government also has plans for an app called GIMS - Government Instant Messaging Service - meant only for government of India employees to communicate.

"A need was being felt within the government for a very long time to have our own, independent, and self-owned instant messaging service. Development of these apps began way before the present WhatsApp controversy," said the source.

The biggest advantage of this app will be that "we will never have to worry about data being stolen and used for commercial gains by big tech".

However, its acceptance among people can be gauged only after a public roll-out - it isn't clear still if both Samvad and Sandes or only one of them will have one. Sources say once beta testing is over, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is expected to dedicate the app to the nation.

Sandes is available on Apple store for a few people to test. It has a blue-and-white interface with the Ashok Chakra as its logo. It authorises and verifies only government employees for now.

"It may entirely be possible that one of these apps shall remain for the internal consumption of government employees and not be rolled out for the public," the source said.

WhatsApp came under criticism recently when it unilaterally changed its service and privacy policy asking for data to be shared with Facebook, its parent firm. Though it later put the plans on hold amid the privacy debate, a feeling remained within the government that the best way forward was to have one's own alternative. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court deemed it a fit case for intervention if people's privacy was at stake.

The leak of WhatsApp chats in recent months, involving several prominent people and well-known faces, too, has added to the overall anxiety over privacy and security. All the more so since the platform has increasingly become a handy tool in business ventures at all levels.

The new apps, meanwhile, are being developed under the Digital India rubric by the National Informatics Centre (NIC). Functioning under MeITY, NIC provides the support system for the delivery of the government's IT services and Digital India initiatives.

Earlier this month, a Bengaluru-based startup launched Koo, a Twitter-like microblogging platform. Recognised as a star example of the Centre's Make In India initiative, Koo immediately drew key government officials and arms as users. Within five days of its launch, its user base soared by over 900,000. That happened amid Twitter's faceoff with the Indian government over free speech and local laws.

"These initiatives are all a part of the government's Aatmanirbhar initiative," a source said referring to Sandes.

The time line for the rollout of this app remains unclear.