WhatsApp has grown into the global messaging behemoth it is today for a number of reasons. Two key features, however, are that it is free to use, and the messages WhatsApp users send to each other are completely private. They are protected by end-to-end encryption. Not for much longer. In a bid to keep WhatsApp free to use, Facebook is going to make some fundamental changes.
WhatsApp will start showing ads and Facebook could bypass WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption to improve ad targeting
When Facebook bought WhatsApp, it did away with the only real means of monetization the messaging service had. Do you remember the yearly 59 cent subscriptions? Facebook did away with them and replaced them with, well, nothing. Ever since WhatsApp has been owned by Facebook it has been free to use and has remained ad-free. Facebook has had enough of this, and it is about to change. In 2019 the WhatsApp Status feature will begin showing ads.
What is the WhatsApp Status feature?
If you’re unfamiliar with the Status feature, that’s because there aren’t that many people that use it. The WhatsApp Status is a feature that works like Instagram Stories. Users can post updates about their day using images, GIFs, and stickers that disappear after 24 hours. You can find Status between the Chats and Calls tabs in WhatsApp. The issue is that there is usually nothing there, just an invite for you to add your own status. On the rare occasion someone has posted a status update, you’ll see a little dot in the Status tab at the top of the app.
WhatsApp Status has been around since February last year and still doesn’t have too many people using the feature. Does this make it a strange place for Facebook to place ads in WhatsApp or the perfect place for Facebook to begin introducing ads to WhatsApp? Could WhatsApp Status ads be the tip of the battering ram, and could we be seeing ads in other parts of WhatsApp later down the line? We’ll have to wait and see.
The real big issue relating Facebook’s ad plan for WhatsApp is down to the incompatibility of modern-day internet ads and end-to-end encryption. Modern ads target you based on your web behavior. This allows the companies who are selling ad space to make more money by showing ads that personally target you rather than the same random ads for everybody. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption means it’ll only be able to show random ads as all your online behavior in the app is hidden behind headline-grabbing robust encryption.
A report in Forbes says that this isn’t necessarily true. According to the report, it could be possible for Facebook to identify keywords in messages that have been encrypted. These keywords could then be sent to Facebook HQ and processed so that more targeted ads could be served up next time. The report doesn’t say that Facebook is doing this now, but it does highlight that there are a lot fewer privacy advocates working at Facebook now than in the past and both WhatsApp founders left the company last year.
You can expect to see the first ads on WhatsApp at some point in 2019.