Whoa there! Did Facebook Just Read My Whatsapp Message & Show Me An Ad? [Update]

Was the acquisition really about Internet.org a.k.a connecting the world? Really not. Strengthen advertising, create more value for advertisers and earn more revenue looks like a more logical board presentation that makes a case for $19 bn.

UPDATE on Feb 27th

Neeraj Arora of WhatsApp has gotten back to NextBigWhat on the issue mentioned in this post:

1) Mark and Jan have both said that there is no plan to integrate the two products and WhatsApp will continue to operate as it is. Nothing will change. http://blog.whatsapp.com/index.php/2014/02/facebook/

2) The deal is not closed yet — so any partnership between the two companies is not legally allowed.

3) We do not store users chats on our servers, so the scenario described in the post is not technically feasible.

4) WhatsApp will never do this to our users. We have been all about knowing as little as possible about our users and that will continue to be the case in the future.


While Rakuten acquired Viber for $ 900 mn, and Facebook acquired Instagram for $ 1 Bn, the deals were quite justified. However the $ 19 Bn acquisition of Whatsapp has been questioned. There were many conspiracy theories. Much has been written by the press. But I am sure you wouldn’t have seen it coming this early.

Was the acquisition really about Internet.org a.k.a connecting the world? Really not. Strengthen advertising, create more value for advertisers and earn more revenue looks like a more logical board presentation that makes a case for $19 bn.

Here’s something for you to ponder. It dates back to couple of days ago, when Whatsapp server was down for some time. This time the down time was a bit more than the regular down times of less than an hour. It lasted 210 minutes to be specific. What happened during those hours? Was a critical integration feature deployed to help Whatsapp upload user data into Facebook servers?

While many prominent media houses suggest that it’s too early for Whatsapp and Facebook to be looking at making money off ads, I think there is a partnership in place already, and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

There’s nothing called early in my opinion. It’s not like Mark woke up one day, called Jan and finished the deal by COB. And it’s becoming quite evident to me by now. So I would say it’s BS press that they have put on their intents :), and they are just becoming the baddest asses in advertising that we have seen ever. No wonder Google wanted Whatsapp so bad.

Here’s why – the most prominent one of all. Our team at Vgulp has been planning a get away to Pondicherry for quite a while now, more so significantly in the last 3 days. Our major tool for communication in real time is the Whatsapp group that we have created. It’s only me who has completed Whatsapp data using the sign in with Facebook feature. The other use case was for uploading contacts. I have done both. And here’s what I saw on Facebook.

Facebook Whatsapp


I was taken aback when I saw this ad pop up. There was no mention of Pondicherry on Facebook at all. No status updates, no chats. Neither did I go into Tripadvisor, in the last few weeks so they could target me with a remarketing ad.

Some things just don’t seem right. So I sent an email immediately to the team. Did Facebook just target me, based on my chat on Whatsapp? How could this even happen. I am also a power advertiser on Facebook, and this feature isn’t deployed on my ad manager yet. What if it’s a pilot only available to larger Facebook advertising customers like Tripadvisor? Or what if it’s not even in the ad manager yet, and Facebook is just testing waters.

Well I could also rule this out thinking it just happened, and was mere coincidence. But what if it’s not. Facebook owns Whatsapp now, and it could do whatever they wish with the data. But if this theory is true, why are they scared to disclose? Because on Whatsapp, users disclose much more confidential and personal data than they would do over Facebook messenger.

Have you had a similar experience? What are your thoughts?

[About the Author: Anand Janardhanan is the Co-Founder of Vgulp, a deal & loyalty portal for tipplers.]

  1. This happened to me today. Last night I was reminiscing on the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze from the 1980s in a whatsapp conversation. Then today, I got a “suggested post” on Facebook from the Cabbage Patch Kids Fan Page. Aside from the mention on whatsapp last night, I’ve never used my phone to look up anything about the dolls or any other children’s toys. Something is definitely up.

  2. This happened to me yesterday. A specific yoga pose I mentioned to a friend in whatsapp and very soon after I’m served 2 different sponsored ads, one telling me the benefits of this pose and another on the best technique to achieve it. Not happy at all.

Comments are closed.

Sign Up for NextBigWhat Newsletter