WhatsApp is introducing a new and controversial feature this year: adverts. The world’s most popular messaging service has more than 1.5 billion users. But, so far company avoided monetising this loyal userbase by showing them commercials. Facebook, owners of the app, stands to rake in vast sums of cash. How so? Very simple – by allowing companies to market their products on WhatsApp. However, there’s a chance the new strategy could backfire. When WhatsApp announced the new feature last year, some users threatened to delete their accounts.
Matt Navarra sparked a Twitter storm
Well-known social media industry commentator, tipster, and leaker, Matt Navarra, sparked a Twitter storm in 2019. Last year he shared pictures of the new feature on his Twitter account after they were shown at the FMS19 conference in Berlin. The ‘Status Ads’ will launch in 2020 and mark a huge change for WhatsApp. Remember, previously WhatsApp famously vowed to never introduce advertising before it was snapped by Mark Zuckerberg for $19 billion in 2014.
After Navarra shared images from the conference, WhatsApp users immediately threatened to delete their accounts. ‘Nice. I’m sure half the users will switch over to Telegram,’ one person wrote. Another Twitter user added: ‘Alright, well, goodbye WhatsApp. ‘Why the heck does Facebook think this is a good idea? People use WhatsApp for professional contacts and Facebook for pleasure. ‘I don’t want ads. I’d rather pay $50 a year to use it ad-free, same as always. Idiots.’
The rumor is the advertising plan have contributed to a dramatic split between its founders and their Mark Zuckerberg. Brian Acton and Jan Koum, two former Yahoo employees who founded the app in 2009. Nowadays they’re massively rich after selling their app to Facebook. They have both left the company after Zuck and his team embarked on a business strategy which directly contradicts one of their long-standing promises about the company.
Way back in 2012, WhatsApp vowed it would never introduce advertising on the app or gather vast amounts of data on its users. ‘Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product,’ it wrote in a blog post. ‘Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought. ‘At every company that sells ads, a significant portion of their engineering team spends their day tuning data mining, writing better code to collect all your personal data. They are upgrading the servers that hold all the data and making sure it’s all being logged and collated and sliced and packaged and shipped out.’ ‘And at the end of the day the result of it all is a slightly different advertising banner in your browser or on your mobile screen.’
WhatsApp added: ‘These days companies know literally everything about you, your friends, your interests, and they use it all to sell ads. ‘When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn’t just another ad clearinghouse.’
This is all about to change. Soon, the app will introduce ads which will appear in the Status section. This section we (users) use to to post text, photos, videos and animated GIFs that appear to our friends and then disappear after 24 hours.
Ads in STATUS
WhatsApp vice president Chris Daniels spoke about the plans earlier this year and said: ‘We are going to be putting ads in “Status”. “That is going to be primary monetisation mode for the company. Also it is an opportunity for businesses to reach people on WhatsApp.’ Founder Brian Acton has previously said he does not agree with the way Facebook works.
In an interview with Forbes earlier this year, he said: ‘Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy.’
He said Facebook ‘represents a set of business practices, principles and ethics, and policies that I don’t necessarily agree with’. ‘At the end of the day, I sold my company,’ he went on. ‘I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit.’
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook has halted its plans to introduce ads in WhatsApp’s Status feed. Talk of advertisements in WhatsApp, and specifically interspersed among ephemeral statuses, has been going for over a year. Their service’s VP confirmed that in October of 2018. But those plans seem to be paused, for now at least.
WSJ cites “people familiar with the matter” who reported that the team responsible for finding ways to integrate ads into the service has been shut down. Also, its work has been deleted from the app’s code. This was confirmed by renowned WhatsApp code sleuths WABetaInfo who said that all mentions of Status ads were removed from the app with beta version 2.19.356. This version dates back to December 4, 2019.
Facebook’s plans to bring ads to WhatsApp aren’t completely dead though, they’re just on pause. Instead, the focus will be on monetizing WhatsApp Business. They’re and hoping to scoop back some of the $19 billion paid for the messaging service back in 2014.
No one expects 1.5 billion people to keep benefiting from the messaging platform for free and without them being profitable in some way, but charging for a free and beloved service or adding ads to it isn’t the smartest move and can risk alienating many users. Providing paid add-ons, offering a premium tier, and especially charging businesses for professional features could be great alternatives.