Popular messaging service WhatsApp will soon be monetised by Facebook, with the possibility of ads appearing early next year in users’ ‘status’ updates.
According to India’s Economic Times, WhatsApp VP Chris Daniels said at an event: “We are going to be putting ads in ‘status’. That is going to be the primary monetisation mode for the company, as well as an opportunity for businesses to reach people on WhatsApp.”
Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 and has not in the last four years made any plans to place advertising within the consumer-facing app, or make money from it in anyway. It has instead been focused on growing its user base.
Earlier this year, WhatsApp announced it had over 1.5 billion active users, with over a billion groups and 65 billion messages sent every day.
The new adverts will not appear in users’ everyday messages, but rather in the ephemeral ‘status’ feature borrowed from Snapchat, which allows users to update their status with pictures and videos that disappear after 24 hours.
When WhatsApp was first launched, users had to pay an annual subscription fee of 99 US cents to use the service. This was dropped in 2016, with promises that the app would remain ad-free.
Having adverts anywhere in the app goes against what WhatsApp was originally built for. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton famously wrote on a Post-it note next to his desk: “No ads! No games! No gimmicks!”
This might have been one of the reasons co-founders Acton and Jan Koum have leftFacebook.
WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum.
In May, Koum announced he was leaving and it was rumoured this exit was due to Facebook’s attempts to use WhatsApp personal data and weaken its encryption.
Acton left the messaging service company last September to start a foundation, after spending eight years with WhatsApp.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes earlier this year, Acton said: “Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy.” Acton went on to say he felt placing ads in WhatsApp’s new status feature breaks a social contract with users.
In January, Facebook introduced WhatsApp Business accounts, which it said will allow businesses to set up automatic greetings, see statistics about their messaging and set up a profile page with hours of operation and other information.
In the Forbes interview, Acton said Facebook will eventually charge for the analytics part of the WhatsApp Business app, and this might involve weakening the user encryption.