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Facebook shelves plans to show ads in WhatsApp

James Cook
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg - AFP

Facebook has abandoned a project to introduce adverts into its WhatsApp messaging app after its plans caused the departure of the app’s founders.

The company has disbanded a team of employees who had been examining the best way to integrate ads into WhatsApp, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Initial work carried out to prepare Whatsapp for advertising has reportedly been deleted from the app’s code.

Facebook’s plans for advertising on WhatsApp are now limited to displaying ads in the status section of user profiles, rather than the more intrusive ads which were initially planned.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19bn (£14.5bn) in 2014, but relations between WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton and Facebook executives soured years later, with both leaving Facebook following a dispute with executives over Facebook’s desire to introduce advertising into the app.

Mr Acton claimed in an interview following his departure from Facebook that “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

The executive previously urged Twitter users to delete their Facebook accounts in a 2018 tweet.

David Marcus, a Facebook executive, publicly disputed Mr Acton’s account of his arguments with Facebook, writing “call me old fashioned, but I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class.”

In March, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to move towards a more privacy-focused model for Facebook and other apps including WhatsApp and Instagram. 

Mr Zuckerberg hopes to unify the technology behind the apps, adding encryption across all messages which could help to increase the privacy of users but would also hamper Facebook’s ability to target adverts at its users.

A Facebook spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.