At the annual Facebook Marketing Summit in the Netherlands, Facebook announced that, from next year, ads will be used on the messaging service WhatsApp.
Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. Before that, the creators had promised not to sell any of its users data or place ads on the service. Instead, it charged $0.99 per year to cover the cost of hosting chats and to generate revenue.
However, since its Facebook takeover, WhatsApp has seen huge growth and now has over 1.5 billion users from 180 different countries.
Facebook itself generates almost all of its revenue by selling targeted ads, and the new WhatsApp feature will be in line with this. The ads will appear on users’ status updates, which are similar to Instagram stories.
The ads were demonstrated at the summit, and they will take up the entire screen of a smartphone. The user will be able to find more information on the advertisement by swiping up.
Two of the co-founders of the app, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, have both left the company and have been very critical of Facebook’s monetisation of the app.
Before the takeover, Jan Koum described his views towards advertising as: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. Remember, when advertising is involved, you the user are the end product.”
At the moment, it’s still not clear which data Facebook will be using to target the ads. It claims that messages sent between users will remain encrypted; however, experts say it may still be possible for them to extract keywords from the messages to use its ad targeting.
Another concern is the tracking of users. According to Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy.com, “The announcement that Facebook intends to begin serving adverts from within the Whatsapp messenger is evidence of how the social media giant intends to harness data across its various platforms to invigorate its marketing capacities.
“In March, Facebook announced its intention to more closely align its Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp services. According to the firm, this would permit its users to interact with contacts across those services.”
“However, as privacy advocates suspected, the move appears to be much more closely related to tracking user interests and habits across its distinct platforms – in order to better serve targeted ads across them.”