The Wall street journal announced on Thursday January 16 a turning point in Facebook’s plans for WhatsApp – the hugely popular messaging app purchased by the company in 2014 and used by at least 1.5 billion people worldwide. While Facebook was supposed to open the app for commercial ads, this project was “Froze”, reports the American daily. This, while online advertising, whose distribution can be targeted from users' personal data, is the main windfall of Facebook, fully at work in its other applications (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger in the first place).
In May 2019, Facebook unveiled at a conference to marketing professionals an overview of the advertisements that could be displayed in the WhatsApp “statutes”. Such advertising space would open in 2020, the company then explained to potential advertisers. WhatsApp “statuses” are the equivalent of “stories” on Instagram, Facebook and Messenger: the feature allows each user to temporarily stream an image or video for 24 hours. This is one of the ways brands, especially on Instagram, use it to deliver sponsored and targeted ads between two “stories” posted by users.
Project postponed “sine die”
Contacted by The world, Facebook does not deny the information of Wall street journal and explains that plans to open WhatsApp “statuses” for ads are postponed. This functionality remains “A possibility in the long term”, but no launch date is planned today, according to Facebook. And the hypothetical arrival of other advertising spaces within the application is not discussed.
“At the moment, the team is focused on how to help companies” on WhatsApp, explains Facebook to World. WhatsApp particularly wishes to advance in this area by providing brands with “Payment solutions” directly accessible in the application.
“In 2019, WhatsApp launched the“ catalogs ”function to help companies present their products and services. This is one of the ways we can get brands and their customers to communicate. “, we know at Facebook. The “catalog” option allows so-called “professional” WhatsApp accounts (online stores, clothing brands, etc.) to provide information on the products they sell. We can easily imagine that purchasing solutions directly in these “catalogs” could be lucrative, both for WhatsApp and for companies wishing to sell their products there.
Such payment solutions – for example: purchase buttons on advertisements – already exist on Instagram, and Facebook makes no secret of wanting to unify certain functions within its main applications. Purchase and payment are part of it. Its libra cryptocurrency project, widely criticized by regulators around the world – and already considered by some to be a “failure”, plans, for example, to be able to be used directly in Messenger and WhatsApp, to pay and get paid with the currency Virtual.
Protection of personal data
Such a turnaround comes after Mark Zuckerberg's advertising projects for WhatsApp had previously generated tensions with the teams of the mobile application, created in 2009 on the principle of respect for personal data and the confidentiality of messages.
To the point where Brian Acton, one of the creators of WhatsApp, left Facebook in 2017 and then explained that the logic behind the deployment of advertising in his application went against his principles. To ensure funding without ads, WhatsApp had for a time set up a very modest annual subscription system (one dollar per year). The takeover by Facebook in 2014, for the astronomical sum of 19 billion euros, had then led to the application becoming completely free, on the model of all the social networks provided by Facebook – whose free service is normally financed by The advertisement.
But encryption of messages on WhatsApp, a central principle reaffirmed by Mark Zuckerberg in 2019, is a thorn in the side of Facebook to allow the collection of personal data from users, on which the operation of these advertisements is based.
Encrypted, the content of messages exchanged on WhatsApp cannot, technically, be analyzed: these messages cannot be used to feed the Facebook advertising databases. The functioning of WhatsApp, where you cannot express yourself publicly (except in the “statutes”), nor subscribe to personalities or centers of interest (except in the case of WhatsApp groups, but whose limitations are many), offers little grain to grind in terms of collecting personal data. The announcements on January 16 show, in this context, that Facebook's quest for solutions to make its WhatsApp application profitable is still far from over.