WhatsApp Boss Denies Chat App Is Exploring Ads

Meta Platforms has reacted quickly to dismiss a media report that its WhatsApp messaging platform is considering running adverts to bolster revenues.

The Financial Times had reported that WhatsApp was exploring advertisements as it sought to boost revenue. There have been previous similar reports over the years.

But the head of WhatsApp at Meta, Will Cathcart publicly stated this was false, quashing concerns that users will be plagued at ads on the messaging platform.

No ads

According to the FT report, teams at Meta were discussing whether to show ads in lists of conversations with contacts on the WhatsApp chat screen, but no final decisions had been made, citing people familiar with the matter.

FT also reported that Meta was also deliberating whether to charge a subscription fee to use the app ad-free.

In a statement to the FT, WhatsApp said “we can’t account for every conversation someone had in our company but we are not testing this, working on it, and it’s not our plan at all.”

FT also reported many company insiders were against the move.

And WhatsApp’s head Will Cathcart also took to X (formerly Twitter) to deny the report.

“This @FT story is false. We aren’t doing this,” he tweeted.

Previous rumours

There have been multiple reports over the years that WhatsApp was considering running adverts on its service.

In 2018 it was reported that Meta intended to deliver advertising in WhatsApp as soon as 2019.

Then in May 2019 a Facebook conference slide apparently showed that WhatsApp would begin to carry adverts from from 2020, but that never happened. The adverts were reportedly set to appear over user’s status updates.

Those reports immediately prompted concerns at the time about what data Meta intended to mine from people’s ‘private conversations’ in order to target adverts at users.

Facebook at the time apparently insisted that messages sent between WhatsApp’s users would remain encrypted.

Privacy worries

WhatsApp has been part of the Mark Zuckerberg empire since 2014, when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for a staggering $22bn, despite the fact that WhatsApp at the time had a tiny revenue stream.

WhatsApp’s founders had always been wary of any move to dilute the privacy of the messaging service. Indeed, when WhatsApp first launched in 2009, its creators promised it would not sell its users’ data or put ads on the platform.

Instead, it charged a yearly fee of 99 cents in order to generate revenue and cover the costs of hosting the chats.

But as WhatsApp was merged into the Facebook empire in the past decade, tensions began to erupt between Zuckerberg and WhatsApp’s founders.

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton for example left Facebook in November 2017 over concerns about the way Facebook “probed” at the app’s end-to-end encryption and its desire to monetise its messaging platform.

He was followed by the other co-founder, Jan Koum, who in May 2018 departed Facebook after he also reportedly clashed with its attempts to use personal data and weaken its encryption.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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