Privacy vs Profits on Whatsapp in the Future


If Facebook has its way businesses could be sending you messages on Whatsapp.

That’s the news out of Bloomberg in a report that was made on Monday. Where Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner explained:

“We think that enabling that B2C (business-to-consumer) messaging has good business potential for us,”

And sure, we’ll admit it, we can see the attraction to start generating revenue from the communication platform that has only hemorrhaged money since being bought by Facebook for a whopping $21.8 billion in 2009.

The big question is, will it actually happen?

Mark Zuckerberg has previously said that he has no intention to turn Whatsapp into a business until it passes the 1 billion user mark however, as things stand now it has 800 million users which is a massive amount but, what’s even more incredible is that its an increase of 200 million since last year. Effectively that means that the goal of breaking through the billion users mark could be reached by the end of this year.

Whatsapp (in our view) is popular due to its cost effectiveness as a communication channel, especially in South Africa where data costs are relatively high. It’s also popular because it’s an un-intrusive method of keeping up to date with friends and family around the world with no annoying pop up adverts or game invitations.

Privacy Violation or not?

The growth of Whatsapp has predominantly been in Asia and therefore we would imagine that, should Facebook decide to let businesses contact users that it would start there. However should this roll out happen in South Africa wouldn’t this then be in contradiction of the POPI act?

The POPI act refers to the South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act which seeks to regulate the Processing of Personal Information.

Personal Information in broad terms means any information relating to an identifiable, living natural person or juristic person and or companies and includes, but is not limited to:

  • Contact details: email, telephone, address etc.
  • Demographic information: age, sex, race, birth date, ethnicity etc.
  • History: employment, financial, educational, criminal, medical history
  • Biometric information: blood type etc.
  • Opinions of and about the person
  • Private correspondence etc.

Privacy violations aside, we think that turning Whatsapp into a potential sales channel would be detrimental to the popularity of the platform but worse than that, we foresee a user decline (in South Africa anyways) purely based on the fact that whatever content, be it video or image is automatically downloaded by the receivers device and therefore uses data and data as mentioned above is a deciding factor for the majority of South Africans as it directly translates into money out of pocket.

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