In his post “Why We Don’t Sell Ads,” co-founder of WhatsApp, Jan Koum rails against in-app ads and quotes Fight Club.
Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. – Tyler Durden, Fight Club
But that was in 2012, before Facebook acquired the messaging application for a whopping $19 billion. This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that it’s actually worth even more.
The most popular app you’ve never heard of has 450 million active users and its encrypted messaging capability has become invaluable to rebels and journalists in places like Syria. The multi-platform-capable app is free to download, costs just $1 per year after the first year and has no ads… yet. With the current stats, recouping the purchase price would take Facebook more than 40 years, but the network is growing fast. WhatsApp already has its sights on a billion potential users in India.
But the no-ads policy was a matter of principle, as Jan Koum wrote:
Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought. At every company that sells ads, a significant portion of their engineering team spends their day tuning data mining, writing better code to collect all your personal data, upgrading the servers that hold all the data and making sure it’s all being logged and collated and sliced and packaged and shipped out… And at the end of the day the result of it all is a slightly different advertising banner in your browser or on your mobile screen.
Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.
Despite this mantra, the indie-messaging app acquisition by the social media conglomerate was not random. WhatsApp tried to sell out to Facebook before and failed, and tried again. And now, Facebook will finally have access to the “ephemeral” and/or “dark social” communications that they’ve always wanted… and the cool teenage kids in Syria.