For a service that supposedly charges you after your first year of service, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum has announced that the yearly WhatsApp subscription fee is being removed “over the next several weeks”.
The move comes following an admission that the system doesn’t work so well and that asking users to pay a subscription fee with a debit or credit card potentially puts off those without ready access to one. As Koum put it at the DLD Conference in Munich today: “We just don’t want people to think at some point their communication to the world will be cut off.”
Does this mean that everybody deepest fear will come to pass: that ads will be introduced to WhatsApp to help pay the overheads? No. According to Koum, WhatsApp will continue to be free. Instead, the company will be looking at introducing different ways for WhatsApp users to communicate with businesses – and vice versa – just as Facebook’s Messenger does.
There doesn’t seem to be any huge rush to make this happen though, with Koum noting “we haven’t written a single line of code yet”. The two-way communication will allow you to more easily contact businesses you’re interested in via WhatsApp and also to allow businesses to send messages to you about important information like flight delays or suspect bank transactions.
If this is where it stops the service could be very useful, kind of like an in-app Google Now. But limiting the amount of “communication” businesses can do with users – and the form of that communication – is going to be critical to its acceptance. Nobody wants to receive friendly “alerts” to sales or special offers in WhatsApp, so the company will have to tread a fine line. WhatsApp is adamant the service will remain free of third-party ads and spam.
Given that this model will be used to replace the yearly subscription fee there’s no chance you can opt out from receiving at least some business communication. From what Koum has said, the withdrawal of the subscription fee is already happening and it looks like there’s no option to say “I’d actually prefer to pay a dollar a year instead”. There will also be no refunds of yearly subscriptions already paid.