Facebook has backtracked on its controversial plans to introduce adverts to WhatApp less than two years after the app’s founders quit over the proposal.
WhatsApp has disbanded the team that was set up to begin the process of integrating ads into the chat platform, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Even the code developed to allow ads to be integrated into the messaging platform has been deleted, the report says, citing ‘people familiar with the matter’.
Facebook’s controversial plan to sell ads on WhatsApp was instrumental in the departure of WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton since 2017.
Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for around $19 billion.
These will appear in the WhatsApp ‘Status’ feature, which is similar to Stories in Instagram. The image shows the adverts that link back to WhatsApp on Facebook (left), similar to Instagram ads (middle) and the full page Status Ads (right)
The company is putting the plans on ice and instead will focus on building more money-making features allowing businesses to communicate with customers – along the lines of WhatsApp Business, introduced in 2018, the WSJ says.
However, ads may still appear in the app’s Status feature, which allows users to share text, photos, videos and animated GIFs that disappear after 24 hours.
Facebook first announced plans to monetise WhatsApp in 2018.
At the time, WhatsApp’s then-vice president, Chris Daniels, called ads a ‘primary monetisation mode’ for the company.
As part of the plans, promotional images would have appeared in WhatsApp’s ‘Status’ feature, which is similar to Stories in Instagram, while businesses would have been able to interact with customers using chat windows.
Adverts on Facebook would also have linked to WhatsApp to allow users to talk directly to brands via the messenger app, as well as through Facebook Messenger.
Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, tweeted the updates from the annual Facebook Marketing Summit.
The image from last year’s Facebook Marketing Summit shows a ‘Status ad’ that appears much like those seen in Stories in Instagram
He wrote: ‘Coming Soon to @Whatsapp – WhatsApp Status (Stories) to get Ads in 2020.’
WhatsApp was created by Koum and Acton in 2009 and initially cost $0.99 per year to subscribe – the charge was scrapped after the acquisition, in 2016.
Facebook has been looking for ways to monetise it ever since.
Adverts – which make up a huge proportion of Facebook’s income and plaster the eponymous social networking site – seemed like the natural option.
Advertising accounted for about 98 per cent of Facebook’s revenue in the third quarter of 2019, although the company didn’t give a break-down of earnings by platform.
WhatsApp fought to keep ads away from the platform after it was acquired by Facebook in 2014
WhatsApp’s founders made their position on advertising clear in 2012.
‘Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product,’ they said.
‘Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought.
‘When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn’t just another ad clearing house.’
After the acquisition in 2014, Koum reiterated the promise that WhatsApp would never introduce adverts: ‘You can count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication.
‘There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.’
Koum and Acton then changed WhatsApp’s terms of service to explicitly forbid ads on the platform in 2016 – hinting that the issue of monetisation was brought about by Facebook fairly soon after the acquisition.
However, Acton left the company in 2017 and Koum in 2018 after arguments over ads and user data.
‘At the end of the day, I sold my company,’ Acton later told Forbes. ‘I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. I live with that every day.’
As of October last year, 1.6 billion users were accessing WhatsApp on a monthly basis, according to Statista.
Facebook estimates that around 2.2 billion people use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger combined every day on average.
WHO IS BRIAN ACTON AND WHAT HAS HE DONE?
Brian Acton is the founder of WhatsApp which was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion (£11.4 billion) in 2014 – the largest deal in Facebook’s history.
According to Forbes, Acton held over 20 per cent stake in the company, making him worth around $3.8 billion (£2.7 billion).
Following Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, Acton donated nearly $290 million (£206 million) to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
The foundation commissions research and partners donors with non-profit organisations.
Acton is now believed to be worth $5.5 billion (£3.9 billion) and works at Signal Foundation, which he founded earlier this year.
The aim of the non-profit organisation is ‘to develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.’
Back in 1996, Acton was the 44th employee hired by Yahoo as an infrastructural engineer.
For the following nine years he worked at Yahoo and lost millions in the dot-com bubble in 2000.
According to his Twitter he was turned down for a job at Facebook in 2009 and also spent a year travelling.
In the same year he bought an iPhone and decided the App Store – which at the time had only been around for seven months – was going to rapidly expand.
Him and his colleague from Yahoo, Jan Koum, decided they wanted to create something.
Koum reputedly came up with the name WhatsApp because it sounded like ‘what’s up?’
Just one week after he decided he wanted to create the app, he incorporated WhatsApp in California.
Now the company is one of the biggest mobile messaging apps with 1.3 billion active monthly users.