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WhatsApp is getting ads next year, but will it lose end-to-end encryption?

Published Sep 27th, 2018 6:50AM EDT
WhatsApp End-to-end Encryption
Image: Gombert/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

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An interview with one of WhatsApp’s co-founders earlier this week confirmed that Brian Acton and Jan Koum left Facebook over huge differences with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s leadership about how WhatsApp should make money. The same article reveals that WhatsApp is indeed getting ads, and explains what will happen with encryption.

We always knew that Facebook would one day want to ruin WhatsApp someday, and it looks like we’re getting closer to that moment. In a way, it’s understandable. Facebook paid some $22 billion for the chat app, and it wants to make that money back. Internally, Facebook had a target of $10 billion revenue run rate within five years of monetization, the Forbes’ report says.

The monetization phase will only start next year. In its agreement with Acton and Koum, Facebook said back in 2014 that they would have “zero pressure” on monetization for then next five years.

But Facebook has been working on bringing ads to WhatsApp for a few years. The first step in this direction was that controversial move to link WhatsApp and Facebook profiles using phone numbers. That’s something Facebook said it’d never do, and paid the price for it in Europe — a $122 million fine and the removal of the feature. Initially, the plan was to serve WhatsApp customers ads inside Facebook.

But Facebook also conceived other means of making money off of WhatsApp that involve showing ads inside the chat app and opening it to businesses. End-to-end encryption stood — and still stands — in the way of that. Facebook questioned the encryption as it was working on targeted ads and commercial messaging.

Facebook wanted to place targeted ads in the new Status feature, something that will happen next year anyway, but also offer businesses analytics tools. “The challenge was WhatsApp’s watertight end-to-end encryption, which stopped both WhatsApp and Facebook from reading messages,” Forbes explains.

So what will happen to end-to-end encryption next year when ads will start showing up in WhatsApp? Nothing, at least at first. A WhatsApp spokesperson said that Status ads are coming to the messaging apps adding that “messages will remain end-to-end encrypted. There are no plans to change that.”

The report also notes that Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg avoided a straight yes or no answer to US lawmakers earlier this year when they asked whether WhatsApp still used end-to-end encryption. “We are strong believers in encryption,” she said.

End-to-end encryption is safe for the time being. Facebook can’t remove it quietly. So if it’ll ever decide to do it, it’ll have to explain the move to its customers, as well as lawmakers.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.