Facebook's lip-service 69p ($1) annual subscription fee for its WhatsApp messaging service has been dropped by the company.
However, the Mark Zuckerberg-run free content ad network has promised that WhatsApp will remain ad-free.
Instead—in a strategy that echoes that of the plans for Facebook's Messenger service—the multinational is hoping to tie-up deals with big name brands, such as airlines and banks, which may prove to be a red flag for privacy campaigners, particularly in Europe.
WhatsApp founder Jan Koum confirmed that it would kill off the yearly 69-pence fee during a speech in Munich on Monday at the DLD conference—the same conference where, a day earlier, the European Commission's competition chief Margrethe Vestager had warned US tech giants that she was continuing to eyeball the vast amounts of data that they hoard, to determine whether antitrust rules may have been broken.
On Monday, in a followup statement on its website, WhatsApp said:
Naturally, people might wonder how we plan to keep WhatsApp running without subscription fees and if today's announcement means we're introducing third-party ads. The answer is no.
Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organisations that you want to hear from. That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight.
We all get these messages elsewhere today—through text messages and phone calls—so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam.
Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion (~£14 billion) in 2014. Put another way, it paid $42 (~£30) per user for the chat app, bringing with it access to millions of netizen's address books—the real value behind that transaction.
Now, what was it that you were saying about big data concerns, Commissioner Vestager...?