WhatsApp in 2012: We don’t sell ads because ads are awful.

WhatsApp in 2016: We still don’t sell ads, however we will share your data with others to help them sell ads. Brilliant!

Four years and whopping $22 billion is what it took for WhatsApp to finally realize – ads are not bad. Time changes, so does perspective. And, WhatsApp is no exception.

Recently, the global messaging giant has updated its terms and privacy policy for the first time in four years, which reminds people of the old dictum – “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product”. In 2014 Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion, a deal that later grew to $22 billion as the value of Facebook’s stock rose, and finally, Facebook takes first step toward making money from this acquisition. After all, no deal is charity.

WhatsApp announced on 25 August that it would share its huge database of users’ information with Facebook – including mobile number, and other metrics like operating system, screen resolution, mobile carrier, country code, app usage statistics etc – that could potentially help Facebook deliver more relevant ads to its registered users and offer them better friend suggestions. The data could also be shared with “Facebook family of companies” — Oculus, Instagram, and PrivateCore.

The new blog by WhatsApp mentions:
“By coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp. And by connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them.”

The internet is flooded with hundreds of articles and enormous amount of information on this update. Avoiding the infoxication, let’s understand the most important part –what does this update mean to you, the user?

  1. WhatsApp is going to share your mobile number with Facebook. Now, if this number is already associated with your Facebook account, it would help Facebook connect with your WhatsApp account and offer you better friend suggestions. As a result, you might get to see your newly added contact (on your phone) on Facebook feed as “People you may know”.
  2. Based on the insights captured through WhatsApp, Facebook will be able to show you more relevant ads on its news feed. So, don’t be surprised to see a bit customized ad messages from your network provider on the data plan they recommend you.
  3. Commercial messaging – going forward WhatsApp will allow you and third parties (businesses) to communicate with each other using WhatsApp, such as through order, transaction, appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and obviously, marketing and promotion. This means you may soon receive a WhatsApp notification from airline company informing you about a delay in your flight, or a bank notifying you about your recent credit card purchase.
  4. In terms of product interface design and user experience, nothing will change on WhatsApp. The service will continue to offer seamless messaging experience without any intrusive ads. The messages, photos, or files shared through WhatsApp will continue to be end-to-end encrypted, so apart from you and recipient, no one – WhatsApp, Facebook or third parties – can access them.

Should you freak about this data sharing initiative?

No, you should not. Facebook already knows a lot about you – more than your neighbor does. The information includes but not limited to your interests, income and net worth, home value, when you’re getting married or becoming a parent, vehicles you own, etc.  There are total 98 personal data points Facebook uses for target advertising. Yeah, you heard that right!

Most of your phone numbers are already associated with Facebook, along with other personal information. The data it gets from WhatsApp is going to be similar to the data you have already given to it. Facebook has implemented a pretty sophisticated system for drilling down what kind of user you are, so if they are looking to WhatsApp for more data, they’ll likely be figuring out an another way to know you better and offer you more relevant ads. And, you can be completely okay with it.

How to opt out of sharing WhatsApp data with Facebook?

If you want to stop WhatsApp from sharing your data with Facebook, there’s an easy way to do that. Recently, you might have received a notification in WhatsApp asking to accept their new terms and policy. If you haven’t agreed to it yet, you can opt out by tapping to “Read the full terms of service and privacy policy” and untick the box that reads “Share my WhatsApp account information with Facebook” and then hit “Agree”.

If you have already accepted the new term, you have 30 days to opt out (till September 25). Go to the account tab on your WhatsApp Settings menu, use the “Share my account info” button to mark your preference.

Be advised that opting out of the data-sharing entirely does not seem to be possible; WhatsApp allows a partial opt out — specifically for Facebook ad targeting. However, the data will still be shared for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding services usage, securing systems, and fighting spam, or infringement activities.

Final word

This is no wonder that companies which offer something – be it a product or service – for free, make money from advertising, and they will eventually find a way to do that. Facebook-owned-WhatsApp dropping its annual subscription fee early this year clearly indicated, the parent company had some bigger plans in mind – at least, something more than generating a dollar per user. People just witnessed the first step towards monetizing the global messaging app, and looking forward to many more to come. “How safe is your data” would remain an unanswered question among users. However, one can be rest assured of the continuity of smooth and seamless app experience and expect new possibilities coming down the road.

Published with permission from Author.

Image courtesy to the Author.  

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