WhatsApp ads could arrive this year, and may be surprisingly personal

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WhatsApp is currently free from ads, but that won't always be the case – and when they arrive, they could be targeted using your Facebook data.

There have been rumblings about ads in WhatsApp for months, with a 2020 launch pencilled into the calendar. The plan initially involved working ads into users' conversations, but earlier this year the Wall Street Journal reported that the team assigned this (potentially very unpopular) task had been disbanded, and their work removed from the app's code.

That wasn't the end of the story though, and Facebook said it was still considering adding ads to WhatsApp's Status feature (its equivalent of Stories, which lets you share messages that are only visible for a short period of time).

Instagram (also owned by Facebook) already includes this type of advertising, with full-page ads that take up your whole screen for a brief period.

This time, it's personal

Things went quiet on the advertising front after January, but according to a new report in The Information, Facebook hasn't abandoned its plans to sell ads in WhatsApp, and is planning to personalize them using your Facebook data.

In January 2019, Facebook announced that it would be integrating Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, rebuilding the apps "at their most basic levels" so they all work in fundamentally the same way.

That would also require all three apps to use end-to-end encryption – a feature that's currently offered by WhatsApp, but not Instagram or Messenger.

The company made it clear that it wasn't planning to merge the three services into one giant unified app, but according to The Information's report, it's instead planning to use phone numbers to match up your various accounts and create a single pool of data to show you targeted ads on all services.

WhatsApp was unable to comment on that directly, but a spokesperson gave us the following statement: “As we’ve said before, ads in Status remains a long-term opportunity for WhatsApp, and we believe it will be a great way for people to discover a business that is important to them in the future. That hasn’t changed. But right now our focus is on building new features to help businesses connect with their customers and providing payments in a number of countries.”

It looks like advertising won't be coming just yet, and that suggested 2020 date could even be pushed back as WhatsApp focuses on its business products, but be prepared for the ads to be surprisingly personal when they appear.

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Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)