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Report: Facebook puts WhatsApp status advert plans on ice

Plans of adverts coming to WhatsApp’s status tab have been signposted for some time, but in a surprising about-face, it looks like Facebook has decided to cancel plans for the foreseeable future.

The news comes from The Wall Street Journal, the same paper that originally highlighted the company’s ambition back in 2018. The newspaper reports on sources “familiar with the matter” who say that the team responsible for putting ads into the platform had been disbanded in recent months. Indeed, the work they had already completed to date has been removed from the code.

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While the report says that Facebook is only postponing plans to put adverts in WhatsApp’s status section rather than killing it entirely, in the short term the company plans to double down on building features for business users instead. This strategy has apparently impressed in its initial form, especially in developing nations where businesses have adopted WhatsApp quite enthusiastically.

This form of monetisation would likely have been less upsetting to WhatsApp’s two founders – Jan Koum and Brian Acton – who the Journal says exited in part due to unease at plans for advertising. Certainly in recent months the latter has been quite publically scathing about his old employers, joining in the #deletefacebook campaign in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.   

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Despite this, Acton maintains he had no choice but to sell his app to Facebook back in 2014. “I had 50 employees, and I had to think about them and the money they would make from this sale,” he recently said in an appearance at Stanford University. “I had to think about our investors and I had to think about my minority stake. I didn’t have the full clout to say no if I wanted to.”

He ultimately described taking “a boatload of money” as a “rational choice.”

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