Facebook has reportedly backed off plans to insert ads into WhatsApp. According to The Wall Street Journal, the social media giant has disbanded the team it put together to figure out how to integrate ads into the messaging platform. It’s reported that the team’s work has also been removed from the app’s code.
WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, in the hopes of tapping into the platform’s popularity in order to build another huge revenue stream. However, monetising messaging has proved challenging, especially when you take into account WhatsApp’s long-standing focus on protecting users’ privacy.
End-to-end encryption comes as standard on WhatsApp, so without access to user data, Facebook’s attempts to monetise WhatsApp are fruitless.
A spokesperson for Facebook said: “At the moment, the team is focused on building new features to help businesses achieve success, as well as providing payments in a number of countries. For example, late last year, WhatsApp launched catalogs to help businesses showcase their goods and services right within the app.”
Facebook’s desire to monetise WhatsApp is one of the reasons co-founder Jan Koum left Facebook in 2018. His fellow co-founder, Brian Acton, left a few months before due to similar concerns about targeted advertising. Both Koum and Acton were reportedly also worried that a commercial messaging feature would force WhatsApp to weaken its end-to-end encryption.
They made their position on advertising clear back in 2012, reiterating that despite Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, it would never introduce adverts. However, in 2016, Koum and Acton were forced to change WhatsApp’s terms of service to forbid ads on the platform, suggesting that the issue of monetisation via targeted advertising was in the works at Facebook HQ.
In August 2019, reports suggested that Facebook was in talks to try and introduce WhatsApp Pay to the Indian and Indonesian markets. With over 500 million WhatsApp users in these regions, it makes sense to put more resources behind WhatsApp Pay and eCommerce. Facebook also acquired Indian eCommerce platform Meesho, which connects sellers with customers on WhatsApp, so it’s believed the focus, for now, will be on letting businesses message clients and customers through WhatsApp, the same feature that’s already available in Facebook Messenger.