WhatsApp will not be getting advertisements as Facebook appears to have backed away from the controversial decision, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal, which is is quoting people familiar with the matter.
It was reported last year that Facebook was getting ready to introduce ads as part of the ‘Status’ feature on WhatsApp, similar to how ads are shown in-between Instagram Stories, but it looks like that won’t be happening.
Facebook showed off the ads that were coming to WhatsApp at its Facebook Marketing Summit (FMC) 2019 in Netherlands. Users would have seen the name of the advertiser as well. They would visit the advertisement by swiping up, which is again similar to how it works on Instagram Stories.
According to the WSJ report, all code built by the team for WhatsApp’s advertisements has been deleted from the app’s code and the team disbanded, though the company refused to comment on the same.
The move was always going to be controversial since WhatsApp unlike Facebook and Instagram has largely been an advertisement-free platform. WhatsApp’s founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton had a very famous anti-ads stance, and there is a blog post from them explaining why the messaging app did not sell ads.
The post reads, “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,” and went on to call advertising an insult to the user’s intelligence and that it was used to collect personal data of users.
It notes that “when advertising is involved you the user are the product,” and that WhatsApp was not interested in collecting user data.
But the acquisition by Facebook in 2014 meant there was always going to be a cultural clash, given the social media giant’s empire was built on the basis of selling advertisements, unlike WhatsApp, which wanted to remain ad-free. This clash was also the reason that both Koum and Acton eventually left the company they had built as they disagreed with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg over monetisation efforts for the app.
Acton had initially suggested a subscription based model to monetise WhatsApp to Sandberg, who did not agree to the idea, saying it would not scale up. In fact in the early days WhatsApp had an annual fee, which was levied after a year or so, though the app mostly ended up remaining free for most users.
While ads might not be making their way to WhatsApp for now, Facebook will likely continue to find new ways to monetise the platform. WhatsApp has close to 1.5 billion users globally, and more than 400 million users in India, which is the biggest market. But revenue continue to elude WhatsApp, and that’s something Facebook will want to change sooner or later.
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