With more than 2 billion subscribers, WhatsApp is by far the most used instant messaging application in the world. Even with the alleged boycott that has been the object of three weeks and with the unprecedented levels of download and uses that its competitors have had its power is almost unbeatable more when it is backed by the social network that is a queen among all others Facebook. The merger of the two platforms, or rather of the two companies is the starting point of this story.

The genesis of WhatsApp

As in the brief and fast-paced history of the Internet, each moment seems like an entire era, we will say that we go back to the distant 2009. It was the year of the foundation of WhatsApp. Its creator was Jan Koum, a 33-year-old Ukrainian immigrant who had dropped out of engineering studies to fully enter into work at large US technology companies such as Adobe, Yahoo, and Apple.

Koum’s initial idea was to develop an application in which states were simply shared to interact with other users. That is that people knew through the address book if whore or zutano was available for a call or an SMS to give a bit of etiquette and protocol to the then-new habit of calling or writing at any time.

At one point the platform evolved to offer the instant messaging service. Those were the years of MSM Messenger and the beginning of the global fever for smartphones. The aforementioned messaging program was very popular, but it could not keep up with the growing trend of communication through mobile equipment, so it ended up being put aside when I cannot migrate from the computer desktop.

WhatsApp came to compete with the BlackBerry Messenger, which initially monopolized almost all market shares. First, it was only available on iOS and in 2012 it became massive with its triumphant arrival on Android. His notoriety grew rapidly and that fame reached the ears of Mark Zuckerberg, who is not only a great Internet visionary but also a scent hound for the business world.

So on February 19, 2014, when WhatsApp was close to reaching its milestone of connecting one billion people, Zuckerberg announced that he had purchased the app for the modest sum of $ 19 billion, worth saying that most it of it -15 billion- payable in Facebook shares.

The young tycoon explained that his decision sought to expand the number of users in his parent network and that with the alliance – which in real terms was more of an absorption – he was only looking for a more open and connected world.

Since then the history of the platform has more or less been in the public domain. Facebook has made several updates to the app, which in general has continued to function in the same way that its founders delivered it. Features such as statuses were included, which give it a brief social network nuance, and details have been improved without the naked eye having made any background changes. They also launched WhatsApp Business for business use.

But they have not been such blockbuster news that has reported on the commercial turnaround that WhatsApp wants to give to finally make a profit. At this point, it must be clarified that no messaging app supports itself or generates dividends. For example, Telegram and Signal are supported by donations from sponsors and WhatsApp, of course, is maintained by Facebook.

In 2020, headlines circulated about the possible inclusion of advertising in WhatsApp statuses that would be displayed in the same way as advertisements in Instagram stories do, and also that a payment platform would be integrated, which in fact already works in Brazil, India, and Indonesia.

When WhatsApp announced this month that it would share the data of its customers with Facebook and other companies it only confirmed another form of monetization of the platform that will pay tribute to its older brother. For example, by delivering the information of its subscribers to Facebook WhatsApp provides the raw material that Zuckerberg turns into merchandise and sells to the highest bidder through that difficult-to-grasp concept that from time to time becomes fashionable: Big Data.

By announcing WhatsApp this month that it would share its customer data with Facebook and other companies,
only confirmed another form of monetization of the platform
Social media is not free
So we return to the question that summons us: Why does WhatsApp want our data? To answer it, let’s first clarify two things: the first, that we speak of privacy not as a synonym of intimacy, so let’s put aside the childish belief that Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, or the CIA (at least this time) are interested in knowing details of our conversations, if the neighbor is unfaithful to the boyfriend, if we speak ill of a cousin or if we have exchanges of compromising messages with an old school lover.

The second thing: Social networks are not free. That is a solid and lapidary truth. That we do not pay money for their use does not mean we do not pay them. What happens is that for these platforms we and we are not the clientele. We are the merchandise.

Having understood these two topics, we move on to the central point of the story, which is the data that is collected. Every little step we take on social networks and the Internet, in general, Each likes each comment each second or so that we spend in front of certain content, each app that we download and use each news that we read, leaves a trace called metadata and that places us within groups.

The metadata clusters are Big Data. Which is the gold mine for advertising and commerce in these times.

Thanks to Big Data, companies can buy space and time for almost personalized advertising in public made to measure. Dog food companies, for example, buy audiences with an interest in pets, geolocated of a certain age range and with specific characteristics from Facebook to advertise to a critically segmented audience. This is much more profitable and effective than advertising through a billboard or television commercial that will be seen by all kinds of people, most of whom will not be interested. Have you ever wondered why when you write or talk about doing a journey for example do you immediately start to see ticket offers? It’s because of Big Data.

For that, Facebook wants our data on WhatsApp, to have our metadata strengthened, to increase its Big Data, to have more raw material and therefore more merchandise to offer to its real customers, which are the companies that advertise on its platform.

Such is the magnitude of this that the United States authorities themselves introduced a federal lawsuit against Facebook for monopoly at the end of 2020 and the dirty laundry that is already beginning to air is at best shameful. Among them a secret agreement with Google that is more of a non-aggression pact in which Facebook continues to keep the biggest pieces of cake and the best conditions to negotiate online advertising.

Anyway, although Facebook is the big shot, it is not the only one with hands stained with the blood of our fingerprint on the Internet. Read more about programmatic advertising and how each cookie we accept generates an auction in milliseconds that grants our screen time to a specific seller. It is pure capitalism.

To the concrete

WhatsApp’s notice, which has now postponed its acceptance deadline until May, states that the platform must be authorized to share the phone number and other information provided in the registry (such as name) with Facebook; information about the phone, including the make, model, and mobile phone provider company; the IP address, which indicates the location of the internet connection; as well as any payment and financial transaction made through the app This in countries where WhatsApp Pay is available.

An AFP dispatch explains that Facebook could also share any other data covered by its privacy policy, such as its contact list, status updates, when people use WhatsApp and for how long, and unique identification numbers for the phones of the users.

From Facebook, they told the French agency that the new conditions “will allow the sharing of additional information between WhatsApp and Facebook and other applications such as Instagram and Messenger, such as contacts and profile data, but not the content of the messages, which remain encrypted.

The changes will not be made in Europe, where a Union law prevents what Facebook proposes from being done. And for the rest of the world, the only other possible option is to unsubscribe from the service.

Given the panorama, the downloads of the Signal application, which claims to be the safest app, skyrocketed. Especially after it was endorsed by personalities like the eccentric founder of Tesla, Elon Musk Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and precisely the digital security expert Edward Snowden. The Russian Telegram, for its part, received an unprecedented push that led it to reach one billion subscriptions and finally to give visibility to its multiple benefits in terms of functionalities that leave WhatsApp far behind.

WhatsApp downloads, meanwhile, fell 11 percent in the first seven days of 2021 compared to the previous week according to analyst Sensor Tower. In the same way, as we said at the beginning, these statistics do not make a dent in the total power of the app in the sector.

So don’t worry, with WhatsApp changes, Facebook won’t know the details of your conversations, but the discussion about internet privacy goes beyond that. It implies the basic right not to be monitored much less for commercial purposes. Why does WhatsApp want our data? To survive, do we give it to them?