What is WhatsApp?
10 years ago, I clearly remember I did not have a smartphone yet and the buzz was already there about something called WhatsApp. Having this amazing feature called group chat, a lot of my friends pestered me into getting it, and well, even I was missing all the fun going on those group chats. Back in 2011, it was one of those which was to be used by younger folks while oldies were just learning to adapt to messaging on their phones. This was a breakthrough technology; their competitors were quite rugged and boring on their UI. The major competitors they had were Viber and WeChat, who now have a decent amount of market share but not as much a giant what WhatsApp is. It was easily available across different operating platforms, be it Android, iOS, Windows, or a Symbian earning itself an extremely high user base. Their initial idea was to build a consumer base and charge may be a dollar per year per user, that never happened, it was kept free.
Facebook acquires WhatsApp
WhatsApp really scaled up to next level when it was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for a whopping $19 billion (That is a lot of billions there). Everyone asked why it was valued so high, no one truly knew its power other than probably Facebook who had the muscle to buy it. Majority of its valuation was on its millions of users or data. Facebook spent a lot of its time and energy in upgrading the chatting app. The current version of WhatsApp is very user friendly and can perform multiple tasks with good features imbibed.
WhatsApp earns the fame
WhatsApp since its inception had developed end-to-end encryption in its application which in a layman’s language means that the text message is not used as a direct text message between two users. The information sent between sender and receiver is encrypted which means if someone in between hacks that message they will see some junk characters and can’t decode 100%. This is a great security feature to prevent lapses during data transmission. This was one of the best fool-proof systems because of which most of the people trusted this chatting space. Facebook probably spent a lot of its marketing funds in expanding its WhatsApp user base in the past few years. So much so that age groups of 60+ can easily maneuver a chatting or a call using this app (means your grandpa/grandma can WhatsApp chat with you)
How does WhatsApp monetize?
While the chat as such is not being breached or being read by the company, the demographic data which is being collected most certainly might be used. The phone number is registered to a particular user, this phone number is being in turn used to run the application, Facebook needs to use this phone number to pull out information from the service providers who provide the data for a sum of money. May be service provider is not selling entirely everything but things like Date of Birth, Age and sex are some of the entities which by and large are quite sufficient to make a simple demographic analysis. I am not saying this is what they entirely do, I am just contemplating that it is possible that they might be doing this. A company must monetize some way else they would be seeking funding like what Wikipedia does these days once a year.
2021,What has changed?
WhatsApp has made it truly clear about its end-to-end encryption being the same and no changes in that space, which means text and voice are still private and will not be used. However, they are introducing a Business account and the user will now be able to chat via WhatsApp with any business which has signed up for their account. Imagine this, your local restaurant owner now has your phone number maybe not directly but, on their servers, which means they will bombard your WhatsApp with advertising their pasta and ravioli with a 20% discount (you get the point). This is going to be bothersome for some while some might just adapt by ignoring such messages. The point of having a secure application just for chatting or calling purposes would no longer be just that.
Will it change anything?
The business feature of WhatsApp is going to only make it stronger in the coming days, I would say ‘well played WhatsApp’. They first got a massive user base and then slowly they are using these users as targets and commodities for business to work, meaning this will no longer be a personal chat window. It would be like any text/message service a network carrier provides. What about people who continue to use WhatsApp? They will continue to use and be not worried as much as they start considering it just as another service. Smaller businesses will greatly benefit from this feature. YouTube was started as just a video sharing platform but now posting videos not only serves as digital marketing but also by ad sensing users start making money, this has made the platform stronger from an economic standpoint where most people are symbiotically dependent on it. In the coming few years, WhatsApp is going to be similar and that would only strengthen it.
Emergence of Signal & Telegram
How to avoid WhatsApp business feature? One cannot avoid but again adapt to other chat spaces. Signal & Telegram are the two most sought apps that also provide end-to-end encryption and because of this, also because of Elon musk’s tweet people are trusting these apps. As of now, Signal is an open-sourced application which means it purely works on either public funding or any other company that can use their source code to run a new chat window. This has sort of convinced people of their personal space, or so to think of. WhatsApp was started in 2009 with the same vision and maybe the same values of providing its users a safe place to communicate, but after a decade we know what it has become. The fate of Signal and Telegram is not known yet, but for sure as of now, they are providing comfort to people who are scared to give away their personal space. What would happen to them after 10 years? Only time will decide.