Founded in February 2009 by two former Yahoo employees after seed funding by few other Yahoo employees, WhatsApp was introduced as freeware, cross platform messaging and voice over IP (VoIP). Installing the app enables users to send text messages, voice messages and share images, pictures, documents through this media.
Whatsapp Features: Timeline
WhatsApp launched by Jan Koum and Brian Acton.
WhatsApp 2.0 released for use in iPhone.
Software updated to send and receive photos / images
Voice messaging introduced
The “Read Receipts” feature is introduced which alerts senders when their messages are ready by recipients. The feature allowing users to disable also introduced for the benefit of users.
WhatsApp Web launched by which WhatsApp can be used on desktops by web browser syncing with mobile devices.
Voice calls were introduced
Document sharing feature introduced. Users could share PDF files with other contacts
End to end encryption (E2EE) feature installed. This protocol ensures information between users is accessible only to them. No third party or service provider can access it.
WhatsApp introduced for both Windows and Mac operating Systems.
Video calls introduced.
Group voice calls introduced
Group Video chats introduced
“Delete for everyone” feature introduced
Between 2009 and 2013 WhatsApp grew step by step with the help of seed funding and venture capital funding. Though there were several attempts by Google to acquire it in 2010, they did not materialize.
Acquisition by Facebook
Since 2005, Facebook has acquired nearly 90 companies. Instagram and WhatsApp are the more famous ones widely used in India and other parts of the world.
On 19th February 2014, Facebook Inc., (“FB”) announced that it was acquiring WhatsApp for a whopping USD 19 billion, the largest acquisition by Facebook. Surpassing the Google and Apple purchase of other tech companies, the FB acquisition of WhatsApp went on to become one of the largest tech buys of all time.
The FB deal was sealed with the objective of capitalizing on the ever increasing user base of WhatsApp. A study showed that 70% of users use WhatsApp on a daily basis as compared to less than 60% use of Facebook. By acquiring WhatsApp, Face Book sought to enhance global connectivity through the internet. Facebook plans to systematically spread to parts of the world where internet connectivity is sparse but WhatsApp is widely used. This is in line with the FB initiative of internet.org which aims to bring internet to lesser developed nations by strategic tie ups with corporates. Eventually FBs agenda seems to be merging all messaging platforms – FB, Whats App and Instagram for users to have a one stop shop communication platform. The objective is garnering a massive user base. Monetization of such platform would be introduced at a later stage.
Concerns / Criticism
Initially, WhatsApp consisted of plain sending and receiving information only. There were concerns of security and data leak as there was no encryption or end to end encryption (E2EE a protocol where information between users is accessible only to them. No third party can access it).
Encryption was put in place in 2012. However, in 2014 a vulnerability of such encryption was discovered on the Android application that allowed another app to access and read all chats of users. It was then that the end to end encryption (E2EE) was built into the app in 2016.
In 2019, Indian users were up in arms after discovering that internet hackers installed spyware (a malicious software introduced in the system to collect data of the user and pass on to third parties without the knowledge or consent of the user). A malware called Pegasus was introduced. It was a bug fixed in the call functionality of Whats App that enabled transmit details of the user. As Israeli surveillance group – NSO was alleged to be behind this. A number of political leaders, bureaucrats, journalists, human rights activists and lawyers were believed to have been targeted in view of the national elections held in that year. When India sought an explanation from WhatsApp, the company filed a federal law suit against the Israeli group NSO. A grim reminder that nothing was private in the digital world anymore. Understandably, the Indian government was not satisfied with the response. Activities that endanger privacy meant going against its vision of digital India.
In May 2017, the European Commission alleged that during the WhatsApp takeover by FB, in the course of merger, FB claimed that it was not technically possible to integrate user information and other data from FB and WhatsApp. Automated matching / mapping of identities and other data of FB users and WhatsApp users was not possible. However, on investigation, the Commission found that WhatsApp user information was in fact being shared to the parent company Face Book. As a result, FB was imposed a fine of a whopping 110 million pounds on grounds of providing misleading information at the time of merger.
- Such data collected may be used for various purposes – advertisements, retail selling basis user preferences and the like. However, there is also threat of using such data for commercial exploitation and even to politically influence users.
- With access to so much information of a user, experts are of the view that such data sharing will amount to surveillance by Facebook and its group companies by giving a 360-degree virtual view of a person’s online activity. Even should a user choose to permanently delete his / her WhatsApp account and exit the service, it is possible the information may have already been stored in the Facebook data bank.