As of February 2016, WhatsApp had a user base of one billion, making it the most popular messaging application. It has so far been free. But as per its new terms of services, from August 25, 2016, it may change the term ‘user’ to ‘product’. Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s co-founder, is of the view that “when advertising is involved, you, the user, are the product”. Under the new terms of services, WhatsApp will no longer be an advertisement-free application.
Founded in 2009 by Koum and Brian Acton, with the promise of providing advertisement-free service to its users, WhatsApp became the most popular messaging application in the world. Koum, though in his own words was against making profit out of selling companies, sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion. Advertisement-free service was a part of the acquisition agreement. Analysts, however, had been waiting for a major policy change since the takeover.
Many users came to know about the big change only after a protest started on the social networking sites. Most of the users started to uncheck the ‘share information’ part of the policy. And there has also been an increase in the number of users migrating from WhatsApp to other messaging applications.
Other than collecting basic information like mobile number and email address, WhatsApp from now on will collect information about the users activity (such as how they use WhatsApp services, or interact with others using WhatsApp services), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website and performance logs and reports. WhatsApp will also collect device-specific information when a user installs, accesses, or uses its services. This includes information such as hardware model, operating system information, browser information, IP address, mobile network information including phone number, and device identifiers.
Another main change is collecting information about users’ online status. WhatsApp will share such information with Facebook “for improving the quality of the service”. Analysing the information can give a clear picture of the personality of the user.
WhatsApp will allow the user and third parties, like businesses, to communicate with each other, such as through order, transaction, and appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and marketing. For example, the user may receive flight status information for an upcoming trip, a receipt for something purchased, or a notification on when a delivery will be made. Messages the user receives could include an offer for something that might interest the user—another loophole for promotional advertisements, the last thing a WhatsApp user wants in their app.
WhatsApp still does not allow third-party banner ads. But if the user uses WhatsApp services in connection with third-party services, like a share button on a news service to share a news article with contacts, groups or broadcast lists, the third-parties’ own terms and privacy policies will govern the user’s use of those services. It may defeat the purpose of “not allowing third-party banner ads’.