Facebook said it chose the UK because it attracts a multicultural workforce from many of the countries where WhatsApp is widely used
Facebook said it chose the UK because it attracts a multicultural workforce from many of the countries where WhatsApp is widely used © Bloomberg

Facebook has chosen London as the centre for a push into payments on its WhatsApp messaging service, boosting the city’s hopes of becoming a global fintech hub and signalling the company’s commitment to monetising the fast-growing platform.

The app, which has 1.5bn users globally, will expand its workforce by a quarter with the hiring of about 100 people. Most of the software engineers will be hired in London with additional operations staff hired in Dublin.

Facebook said it chose the UK, where WhatsApp is far more popular than in the US, because it attracts a multicultural workforce from many of the countries where the app is widely used, such as India. New staff will build a payments function as well as products that focus on safety and spam on the app.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, last week announced that WhatsApp’s mobile payments would launch in several countries this year, saying he was “particularly excited” about the expansion after an initial test in India.

“Payments is one of the areas where we have an opportunity to make it a lot easier. I believe it should be as easy to send money to someone as it is to send a photo,” he said at the F8 developers conference.

Senior engineers from the WhatsApp founding team were sent to London late last year to recruit people, WhatsApp said.

“We’re eager to work with some of the best technical and operational experts in both London and Dublin to take WhatsApp into its second decade. WhatsApp is a truly global service and these teams will help us provide WhatsApp payments and other great features for our users everywhere,” said Matthew Idema, WhatsApp’s chief operating officer.

Despite being one of the most used apps in the world, the California-based company only has roughly 400 employees. While its most popular markets are India, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, it had not established a local office anywhere until late last year, when it hired an India head in time for the country’s elections.

The company, which rolled out end-to-end encryption in 2016, cannot see or trace messages sent using its platform. The encryption, designed to protect privacy, means that the company has struggled with the misuse of its platform, including the sharing of child abuse imagery, and misleading and false information.

“That’s ultimately the challenge of WhatsApp. Since 2016, there has been a focus on political misinformation, but globally there is a huge problem with scientific and health misinformation, such as anti-vaxxers, as well,” said Claire Wardle, a fellow at Harvard University who studies the spread of fake news on social media globally.

To battle this, WhatsApp has been trying to build a machine-learning team that can identify patterns of abuse in bulk messaging, and also categorise user reports to spot bad content. The European teams will work on these products globally, WhatsApp said.

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