Even though WhatsApp has been in the news for several wrong reasons, including spread of fake news and misinformation, it has always had an ad-free interface. This will change soon, however, thanks to Facebook’s decision of monetising the platform with more than a billion users.
WABetaInfo, in a series of tweets, reported that WhatsApp was testing ads inside the ‘status’ section of the app. It is reported that this will be similar to the ads already present on Instagram’s ‘stories’ and Snapchat’s ‘discover’. The two apps keep track of your browsing data and activity, which includes your interests, things you like and the searches you make, to show you relevant content in the form of ads.
Until now, WhatsApp’s philosophy meant knowing nothing about the user—it didn’t ask you your details like your age, interests or even your email address—just your phone number. A blog post dating back to 2014 by the company’s co-founder and ex-CEO, Jan Koum, reads:
“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible. You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that."
This might have to take a turn in Facebook’s direction, the direction of hogging data from users, in order to display relevant ads. This can be done by weakening the end-to-end encryption in order to track users’ interests, map their networks or track down their phone numbers that are linked with Facebook and Instagram. AFP earlier reported that this would have been one of the reasons why Koum resigned, going by US media reports.
Although only less than 50% of WhatsApp users actually use the ‘status’ feature, the reaction to this upcoming change is not being received well by users, with many questioning the strength of end-to-end encryption.