When WhatsApp launched a little more than ten years ago, no-one could have predicted the influence it has on our daily lives today. At the time it was introduced to Dutch mobile phones, the functionalities were relatively simple. Real-time texting, not using cellular networks, but the internet. WhatsApp brought the features we loved about MSN to your phone. I mean: have you not sent your high school crush tons of cheeky texts loaded with emoji using WhatsApp? The application enabled a generation to stay in touch 24/7. And so far, all of this came at zero expense. Subconsciously we probably knew that this could not last forever, but now we know for certain that within 12 months, ads are coming to WhatsApp
Facebook revealed what the ads would look like in the app at the annual Facebook Marketing Summit in Rotterdam. A main change being that “WhatsApp for Businesses” is going to feature richer messaging and formatting options for advertisers. Furthermore, the WhatsApp product catalogue is announced to be integrated with the existing Facebook Manager Catalogue. These intentions to capitalise on the WhatsApp application forced WhatsApp’s co-founders to leave the company. Brian Acton, one of WhatsApp's co-founders, said he had to leave because Mark Zuckerberg's rush to make money from the app was making him "unhappy".
The Facebook Imperium
The trouble began when Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for USD 19 billion. Most people and business analysts expected that the ad free days would be over soon. The purchase of WhatsApp fits in Facebook’s strategy to acquire or copy functions from rival applications and services. This aggressive approach allegedly pushed mainly by founder and majority shareholder Mark Zuckerberg has created an imperium of social networks. His actions are leading in a world where actors will do anything to capture our information. And it is not just commercial entities; political parties across the spectrum and in all nations use data to target constituencies. The impact is massive: without the intelligence provided by data engineers from Cambridge Analytica, Trump’s presidency might not have happened, and Britain would probably have voted to remain in the European Union. The preferred platform to win votes is Facebook; its advanced advertisement software serves to accurately target profiles and consumer groups.
Should you be scared? No.
Over the years, WhatsApp’s service has expanded by including many more features to increase interconnectivity of users. Yet, the simple nature of the app has been kept clean and easy to use. As said by the founder of WhatsApp and its early investors, that is the success; no games, no gimmicks, and most importantly: no ads. This type of neutrality makes us feel comfortable using the app, and its end-to-end encryption of data should guarantee our valuable -feeling of- privacy. The end-to-end encryption makes WhatsApp an ideal platform for communicating about your (private) life. Encryption makes it impossible for any third party to analyse the content of your messages. What is recorded, however, is who you communicate with. WhatsApp can therefore easily extract personal networks by scale and intensity of use by who you chat, phone, and video call with.
Should you be careful? Yes.
In the Facebook Marketing Summit, it was announced that WhatsApp will be using the advertisement engines from its mother company. This is what should alert users. If WhatsApp is joining the advertising services of Facebook and services are further integrated, the data WhatsApp collects on your network can be used to combine data gathered through other applications to build enhanced profiles. It is expected that there soon will be a possibility to login on WhatsApp using your Facebook account or the other way around. Either of which will allow Facebook to merge your accounts of different platforms to one identity. Privacy advisers therefore recommend to, when registering to any new applications or websites, always evade the option to log-in using your Facebook ID. Instead, decide to create a separate account for each service.
There is no reason to fear that any time soon Mark Zuckerberg will be able to analyse your WhatsApp texts. But Facebook will try to collect as much data about you as possible by analysing your behaviour and storing as much data about you as it can collect. So if you value your privacy and do not enjoy being personally targeted by marketeers; be careful on which permissions you grant to your social networking apps.