The question on many minds is whether -- or when -- the tables
The main piece of data WhatsApp needs to enable its service is a
mobile phone number.
"WhatsApp is popular because it's private," said Justin
Brookman, director of Center for Democracy and Technology's Project
on Consumer Privacy. "Part of the value in the trust in the
ecosystem is predicated on privacy protection, so Facebook would
burn through that goodwill if they tried to change that."
For now, WhatsApp promises the service will remain unencumbered
by advertising. "And you can still count on absolutely no ads
interrupting your communication," noted the firm in a blog post
However, WhatsApp's terms of service in the Android ecosystem
requires users to approve access to lots of other types of
information including geographic location, contacts stored on the
phone, personal profile data from contact information, and device
ID. Apple iOS users are asked to approve collection of contacts and
allow push notifications such as alerts.
terms rather than legalese, and is quite clear regarding what
WhatsApp does and does not collect and how that information might
addresses, emails or location data, and the only contact
information obtained from users' mobile contact lists are contact
its mobile download requirements appears to be a result of standard
language associated with Android and Apple iOS downloads.
The service also purges message content. "The contents of
messages that have been delivered by the WhatsApp Service are not
copied, kept or archived by WhatsApp in the normal course of
business," states the policy. So, theoretically, unlike Google's Gmail or ads on the
Facebook site, keywords in messages people send using WhatsApp
wouldn't be used to inform ad targeting if ads ever do end up on
While advertising is anathema to WhatsApp's founding principles,
that doesn't necessarily preclude the firm from altering its
of user data with Facebook. For one thing, Facebook may be
interested in determining degrees of closeness among people. Many
people have submitted their mobile phone numbers to Facebook and
the firm could connect that information to data from WhatsApp to
learn more about which users interact more often with one another
based on how frequently they are in contact on WhatsApp.
In the short term, Facebook stands to glean more information on
emerging markets via the acquisition. Mobile phone service Jana
conducts surveys of its users in exchange for phone usage data. The
discovered that WhatsApp is popular in emerging markets. In
Brazil, 63% of Jana survey participants said WhatsApp is their
most-used messaging service, compared to 5.58% who named Facebook
as their go-to message app. In India, WhatsApp was the favorite of
55% compared to 0.85% for Facebook. In Mexico, 76% said they prefer
WhatsApp while just 5% said Facebook.
With the acquisition, Facebook aims for better engagement with
users in emerging markets, suggested Nathan Eagle, Jana's cofounder
and CEO. "Data in general is not really [WhatsApp's] focus," he
said, adding that perfecting a fast, efficient and inexpensive
messaging service is "their laser focus."
If Facebook succeeds in maintaining and building high user
engagement with WhatsApp, it could drive those users to Facebook
where they will see ads, potentially targeted with data enriched by