Long gone are the days that we just use our phones to make and receive calls. With the average person having close to 40 apps on their phones, our phones have become an advertisers dream.

Just how at the mercy are we to advertisers and what can we actually do about them?

Seemingly not a lot. When Facebook acquired both Instagram and Whatsapp it wasn’t long before we started seeing ads popping up in the story bar of Instagram as well as down our IG feeds. Were we naive enough to assume that Whatsapp was our only safe haven away from targeted ads?

Well yes and no… We wouldn’t be entirely to blame for thinking this, especially when  Whatsapp founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum promised us in 2012 that Whatsapp would never have advertising and that they were strictly opposed to it. Being bought by Facebook  in 2014 (for a cool $22 billion) didn’t change their viewpoint on this and these opinions were expressed once again after the buy-in (or the sell-out dependent on how you want to look at it).

Lest we not forget Jan Koum’s first ever tweet, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” (The quote being a nod to Fight Club).

The Data Devil

However, we have watched rather chillingly Facebook’s global domination; the good, the bad and the downright ugly that has eclipsed them in the last five years.When we unwittingly signed up to Facebook 15 plus years ago, we had no idea then the depth that our personal data would go. The scary thing being, that we’ll be hard pushed to scrape every bit of it back.

Since the purchase of Whatsapp, co founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum have been vocal about Facebook’s upper management and its insistence on monetizing users and their data. These differences led to both founders ultimately leaving the company- a move that cost Acton $850 million- and in March of last year Acton tweeted the infamous:

“It is time. #deletefacebook”.

Finally the announcement came at their annual Facebook Marketing Summit in the Netherlands: Ads will be coming to WhatsApp in 2020.  

What does that mean for us?

The bad news is, there really is nothing users can do to stop the paid-ads and there will be no option to turn them off. According to technology website BGR, users will be able to “swipe up when an ad appears for more information about the product or service being advertised.”

Will adverts be the death of Whatsapp users, in what had always been an instant messaging space void of advertisements? That is yet to be determined. Perhaps we are so used to ads that we have become totally accustomed (not to mention desensitised) to them. More than anything, it is the deep sense of disappointment that this ‘safe haven’ has finally been tainted by those driven by monetary gain, that will inflict the most reaction.  

However, if a backlash does follow,  Whatsapp will now indefinitely be inviting new instant messaging contenders to the playground, who previously did not stand such high chances of garnering such a strong user base.

Hauntingly Acton said in an interview last year

“At the end of the day, I sold my company. I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

“I am a sellout. I acknowledge that.”

C.Moncrieff