It’s been 4 years since Facebook bought the messaging app WhatsApp for a whopping $22 billion, and so far the app has remained ad-free. However, that is about to change in 2019, as WhatsApp plans to roll out targeted ads to its more than a billion users. A spokesman for WhatsApp said that ads would be introduced to the Status feature but claimed that messages “will remain end-to-end encrypted”.
WhatsApp is an app like any other, built from code that developers can tweak at any time. Currently WhatsApp’s code is programmed to send an encrypted message, but there’s no technical reason why the code couldn’t first look for keywords in sentences, like “insurance” or “gardening,” and send them to servers over at Facebook to be processed for advertising, while separately sending the encrypted message.
WhatsApp was built on a “no-ads” mantra, always ensuring people’s privacy was top priority. Their philosophy meant knowing nothing about the user—it didn’t ask for your age, interests or even your email address—just your phone number. So it’s not a surprise that the announcement about introducing ads to the platform hasn’t been received too well by a fair few.
A Facebook spokesperson added: “Thanks to the team’s relentless focus on building valuable features, WhatsApp is now an important part of over a billion people’s lives, and we’re excited about what the future holds.”
But in order for WhatsApp to display relevant ads, the end-to-end encryption will have to be weakened in order to either track users’ interests, map their networks or track down their phone numbers that are linked with Facebook and Instagram.
While many vent their frustration over the latest news, it seems like the ads won’t necessarily ‘bother’ quite a few of us (or at least not initially..) as less than 50% of WhatsApp users actually use the Status feature.