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If WhatsApp’s co-founder had gotten his way, you’d have had to pay for messages

Would you pay to send/receive messages on WhatsApp? Co-founder Brian Acton thought this was a better idea than targeted advertising.

Published onSeptember 27, 2018

A WhatsApp app icon closeup on a smartphone.
  • WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton proposed that users get charged by the message.
  • The proposal was rejected by Facebook, Acton says, in favor of advertising.
  • WhatsApp has previously charged a yearly subscription fee, dropping the requirement in 2016.

Would you pay to send and receive messages via WhatsApp? That’s what co-founder Brian Acton proposed to Facebook executives, according to a new interview.

Acton, who joined Facebook when it purchased WhatsApp in 2014 (and left last year), revealed the proposal in an interview with Forbes. He envisioned users being charged per message after a “certain large number of free messages” was used up.

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“You build it once, it runs everywhere in every country,” Acton was quoted as saying. “You don’t need a sophisticated sales force. It’s a very simple business.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the platform dabbled in payments from users. The platform previously charged a yearly subscription fee, before dropping the requirement in 2016.

The solution, however, was eventually shot down by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who said the plan “won’t scale,” according to the co-founder. He said his reply was: “No, you don’t mean that it won’t scale. You mean it won’t make as much money […]”

A question of monetization

In the interview, Acton also revealed that Facebook’s push for targeted advertising is one of the key reasons why he left. The co-founder said Facebook wanted to add targeted ads to WhatsApp’s Status feature, as opposed to Acton’s idea of letting users pay for messages.

According to Forbes, a WhatsApp spokesperson has confirmed that ads are indeed coming to WhatsApp Status next year.

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WhatsApp by Facebook stock photo 3

The issue of encryption was another source of tension, according to Acton. Facebook wanted to provide analytics tools to businesses using WhatsApp to chat with clients. The platform’s use of end-to-end encryption meant businesses and Facebook couldn’t read/analyze messages in the first place.

The co-founder said that, while Facebook didn’t want to break the encryption, its managers did question and “probe” ways to offer business-related analytics in an encrypted environment.

“At the end of the day, I sold my company,” he said. “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

Would you pay to send/receive messages in WhatsApp in lieu of ads? Let us know in the comments section.

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