WhatsApp wants businesses to ask users what's up as the walls between Facebook begin to fall

Billy Bambrough
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WhatsApp removed the $1 per year charge to use its service in January (Source: Getty)

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp is moving to reestablish its revenue stream by allowing businesses to message users.

A change to its privacy policy – announced on the company's blog – means businesses will be able to message WhatsApp's over one billion users in the same way they do with SMS messages.

Whatsapp used examples of a users bank notifying them about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight as how the service could be used by businesses.

Read more: How is the way we're messaging changing?

WhatsApp – which was acquired by social media giant Facebook in 2014 for $22bn (£16bn) – did away with its yearly $1 charge in January this year, removing its only source of revenue.

In a blog post the company wrote:

We want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam.

Whether it's hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight, many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls.

We want to test these features in the next several months, but need to update our terms and privacy policy to do so.

The messaging company has insisted however it will not not display adverts in the app – which is the way Facebook makes the majority of its money.

Other messaging apps – such as China's WeChat have already begun experimenting with business-to-consumer messages and many businesses have started asking their customers to add them on WhatsApp so they can send marketing and promotions directly.

Facebook Messenger, which is WhatsApp's main competitor outside of China, has been encouraging companies to build chat bots that use an artificial intelligence to communicate with users.

Read more: WhatsApp's new desktop app is about to ruin workplace productivity

As part of the changes announced today WhatsApp plans to share its users’ phone numbers with Facebook, the first time the two services have shared data.

Facebook will receive more data about its users and allow it to do things like suggest phone contacts as Facebook friends.

WhatsApp reiterated the contents of messages – including words and images – cannot be read by the company as they are end-to-end encrypted, but it does have things like phone numbers and information about users' phones.

The move could spark concerns over privacy, with many users choosing to use WhatsApp because of its perceived security.

WhatsApp's changes to privacy policy are the first since the app was snapped up by Facebook.

Read more: WhatsApp passes one billion user milestone

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has wowed investors with Facebook's transition to mobile in recent years, with revenue from mobile devices overtaking web. Many now expect him to be able to grow WhatsApp's revenue on mobile.

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