In 2014, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for an astronomical 19.3 billion US dollars, leading to many users diverting away from the platform in the belief that Facebook would put an end to the anti-advertising stance and respect for privacy WhatsApp had been renowned for in the past. This shift was reflected in the increasing downloads of alternative instant messaging applications, eight million additional downloads of Telegram and two million additional downloads of Line. WhatsApp, though, kept the top spot as the most globally popular messaging app with 600 million active users.
The views of the founders of WhatsApp were at one time in strong contradiction to the mass surveillance culture that was reaching serious heights at the time of the apps launch. It has been common knowledge for some time that Google and Facebook have become large stores of mass user data that allows them to generate revenue through giving advertisers access to its users. These big conglomerates want data and instead of charging users to use their product, they will ask politely over and over for more and more data, leaving users with less and less privacy online.
Facebook’s website itself doesn’t generate profit, it’s the users who are its commodity. People are happy to share data about themselves openly. This information is then held online and sold to advertising companies, who are able to target specific users with specific products based on their online searches, their likes, their friends and geographic movement.
WhatsApp data will now be shared with Facebook, a combination I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg had in mind to integrate from the start. This move has been justified because it will allow the company to track how often people use its services, provide better customised advertising and provide better friend suggestions. For a lot of people this comes as a major blow to a company brand that was once outspoken in its stance for anti-advertising, mainly through Jan Koum, one of the original co-founders. It seems that despite all the principles the founders adhered to at the beginning of their start up journey, everyone has a price. And with the kind of money Facebook makes off the back of its users, it’s easy to understand for most why it’s difficult to turn down an offer of a ten-digit figure.
A German consumer watchdog has threatened legal action against WhatsApp over allegations that Facebook pledged following the acquisition, that WhatsApp would remain independent following the takeover in 2014.
“Consumers trusted that their information would remain with WhatsApp alone and that no information would be transferred to Facebook, their trust was broken”. It remains to be seen the outcome of this complaint, but I’m sure Facebook will have its way, backed by a highly effective legal team.
For those wanting to opt out of the new terms head to settings in WhatApp, go to ‘Account’ and untick the checkbox at the bottom under ‘Share my account info’. For those wanting a change in application, I would suggest Telegram as it provides users with an encrypted system and also a secret chat function that allows for end-end encryption – so no data is stored on its servers – plus no advertising!