Trust – or consumer confidence – is one of the most expensive commodities any business or brand can invest in. It takes a lot to win that trust, but it’s much more expensive to buy back once that trust has been broken. Just ask Chipotle, Volkswagen or GM … or WhatsApp. The messaging app was hugely popular with customers, but a broken promise sent consumer confidence plummeting.
Recent reports say that might be changing. In a release, WhatsApp said it hopes to “further develop” the sort of interactions allowed in the community. What, exactly, do they mean by this? Well, if you guessed “by allowing companies to come at you with advertisements” you get the gold star.
If this happens, it will represent the first substantive change to the app’s operation since it was bought by Facebook back in 2014. In those days users panicked, knowing Facebook’s penchant for playing fast and loose with user data unless otherwise instructed. WhatsApp assured users nothing would change. They would be safe from the constant barrage of advertising found just about everywhere else on the web and mobile devices.
Now WhatsApp is admitting they will be giving Facebook “full access” to phone numbers people use on their accounts. That will allow Facebook to track app users, while also gathering data about their behavior and hit them with more targeted advertising. If that sounds to you like a reversal, you are in agreement with many WhatsApp users, who are actually saying the change is more of a betrayal than a “change.”
Privacy advocates, who had been strong champions of WhatsApp, turned on the company and the app almost immediately. Official watchdog groups are launching official investigations, and disgruntled customers are raging on social media.
WhatsApp claims the changes will not impact customer privacy, telling the press: “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible… If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it…”
So far, critics and angry customers are not buying it, but it’s early. WhatsApp still has time to turn the message narrative around.