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Wiper, an ephemeral messaging app that launched in 2014, has a reputation as a Snapchat clone, but it’s actually closer to Line, which uses over-the-top messaging as a platform to sell stickers, games, and other entertainment and services. Taking a kitchen-sink approach to messaging apps, Wiper doesn’t just provide messages you can delete with a push of a button, but also includes free calling, YouTube music playlists, and now, payments powered by the bitcoin protocol.
Payments and messaging are a natural fit. In China, you can add a bank account to a WeChat account. More recently, in the United States, Snapchat introduced Snapcash with Square. But Wiper is eschewing partnerships with financial companies and using the bitcoin protocol instead for transferring money from person to person.
Wiper is positioning this feature as a way for people from other countries to send money home. Those payments are called remittances. From Wiper’s blog post:
This promises huge savings for immigrants sending money home and access to tools for the 2.5 billion adults who do not have bank accounts. It will also allow for microtransactions that were previously cost prohibitive, like tipping for media you like.
“If bitcoin is complicated for people who are tech-savvy and used to smartphones, imagine what it’s like for the first-time smartphone buyer,” Wiper CEO Manlio Carrelli said. “But the first-time smartphone buyer is used to the messaging interface.”
Wiper’s bitcoin implementation is fairly elegant. At the bottom of the app, there’s a tab for Bitcoin transactions. Instead of using a person’s inscrutable bitcoin address wallet, you can send bitcoins or fractions of bitcoins to Wiper usernames as part of a chat or through a separate transaction. Wiper lets you send Bitcoin to any wallet ID, even those without an associated Wiper account.
There are a few nice features included, like the fact that Wiper uses a different wallet ID for each transaction, but all wallets are still synced to your Wiper username. On iOS, Wiper uses Touch ID to validate payments. There is also the option to denominate all bitcoin amounts in local currency.
There’s just one problem, though. If you don’t already have bitcoins, there’s no way to buy them from Wiper. To upload bitcoins into my Wiper account, I had to transfer them from my Coinbase wallet. On the other end, someone in a country like the Philippines or India might not have an easy way to turn bitcoins from Wiper back into money she can use.
“When you send money to Mom back home, you need to find a place that takes Bitcoin or offload it into local currency,” Carrelli said. “That’s what we’re going to work on next.”
There’s also the issue that bitcoin transactions — even sending the equivalent of $1 to a friend — are permanently and publicly recorded on the blockchain, which seems to be at odds with Wiper’s flagship feature, which is that it can delete all your messages with the push of a button. Your texts might be gone, but your bitcoin transactions will be accessible forever. However, Wiper will delete your transaction history from the app, and since it uses a different wallet ID for each transaction, the hope is that it would be “exceptionally hard to reverse engineer how much bitcoin you have.”
Anybody who’s seriously concerned with security wouldn’t be using Wiper anyway. As of now, you have to take the company’s word that its closed-source communication software is properly encrypted and messages are actually deleted when they’re wiped. Carrelli says that Wiper will release a “whitepaper” from a third-party auditor in the next year.
Still, the concept is simple and alluring. If you’re already using an app to call and message your family back home, why not add an easy way to send them money as well? In this case, despite its downsides, the bitcoin protocol has the advantage of potentially being cheaper than Western Union and similar services, as well as cutting through local regulations.
Wiper wouldn’t share user statistics with me, but it noted that its downloads on Google Play are in the 1-to-5-million range. Carrelli says the app has roughly equal numbers of iOS and Android users, and he also mentioned that Wiper is particularly successful in a few overseas markets like Thailand and Brazil. (According to App Annie, Wiper is the 77th most downloaded app in Thailand, although it climbed to the top spot at one point in December, and it’s currently the 140th most downloaded app in Brazil.)
Wiper has a 12-person team at the moment, based in New York, and it’s been funded by Michael Choupak, the former Intermedia CEO, who has contributed $2.5 million in seed funding.