WhatsApp completes five years with Facebook: How the chat app thrived amid controversies

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New Delhi | Updated: February 19, 2019 8:49:36 PM

Facebook acquired WhatsApp way back in 2014 on the condition that it will not carry advertisements. Five years later, the app is a few steps away from having advertisements

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014 for billion (Source: Reuters)

It was February 19, 2014, when Facebook took over WhatsApp operations from its co-founders for a sum of whopping $19 billion. Ever since the acquisition, WhatsApp’s popularity has catapulted to what the company prides itself in terms of the users it has worldwide. There have been several times when Facebook’s motives behind acquiring WhatsApp were questioned on the basis of the various scandals and debacles marring the repute of the company. But at the same time, WhatsApp shot to gain more popularity under Facebook’s umbrella to become what it is today, five years later.

WhatsApp was founded by previous Yahoo employees Brian Acton and Jan Kuom, who were stringent on the principle that WhatsApp will always weigh user privacy over data sharing, which is why it used to offer a paid version after one year of free services. However, when Facebook became the owner of WhatsApp, the paid model was discontinued, giving an unabated rise to privacy concerns, as well as a reason for the users to cheer.

The recent turmoil within the walls of the company bounced outside when Brian Acton, who was the only one continuing his stint at Facebook after Kuom left early, departed the company over an impasse on the imminent introduction of advertisements on WhatsApp – something that both the co-founders had never agreed on since the start. The clash between Facebook and WhatsApp a few years after the acquisition finally led to Acton’s departure and got Facebook a bad press.

But, WhatsApp is still growing by the day, adding approximately 1 million users daily in the countries it is operating in, according to the data by Statista. With over 1.5 billion users worldwide, 200 million of which are from India, WhatsApp has outdone several upstarts as well as bigwigs in the industry, including some of the chat services offered by Apple and Google. In fact, WhatsApp overtook Messenger, the primary chat platform by Facebook seen as the rival before the acquisition happened.

The use cases of WhatsApp are no longer limited to just chatting with friends and family. The Facebook-owned chat app became the top source of spreading news and similarly fake news. WhatsApp has served as the conduit for false news in India leading to multiple cases of mob lynching, killing, and other violence. Not only did WhatsApp take the note of the situation rampant in India, but it also issued some measure to clamp down on the spread of fake news.

One of the moves WhatsApp took primarily to educate Indian users on fake news was the restriction imposed on the forwarding messages on the platform. WhatsApp rolled out the new rule that allowed the users to forward no more than five messages at once. This was, of course, topped by other measures taken by WhatsApp including the roadside theatrical demonstrations of the ill results of spreading fake news and full-page advertisements in the leading newspapers of the country.

Despite the efforts Facebook, the parent company of WhatsApp, thought were apt and sufficient to prevent further mishappenings, the Indian government gave a rap to WhatsApp on not doing just enough. The Indian government demanded the company to work on a tool that allows determining the traces of the sender of fake news so as to facilitate the criminal case against the instigators. WhatsApp, on the other hand, categorically denied the demands against the backdrop of end-to-end encryption securing the platform from any sort of infiltration or hacking.

Finding itself at a crossroads, WhatsApp was subsequently served different notices by the government on its response that defied the traceability demands. The worst case scenario explained in one of the notices is the shuttering of its services that Facebook fears might happen following the non-compliance. Facebook is mulling every possible measure to appease the government that includes some punitive steps for the users, which are not clear as of now.

WhatsApp last year piloted its payment service starting from India, powered by the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) service for the transfer of funds between contacts. The company tied up with the leading banks in the country for a smooth sail to take on the services offered by rivals including Google (Google Pay). However, Facebook and the Reserve Bank of India have been deadlocked over the unfulfillment of the mandates.

Bogged by one-many roadblocks, five years down the lane, WhatsApp continues to refresh its popularity even after the deluge Indian government recently kicked off. It has already nearly decimated its rivals in India, including some Chinese counterparts such as WeChat and Line that have stopped reporting the rise or fall in the user base in India. Homegrown chat app Hike is also miles behind WhatsApp’s mark presently. Meanwhile, Facebook is capitalising on the assets WhatsApp possesses in India to push its other services including Messenger and Instagram, which are gaining users in India more than ever, as per the company’s data.

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