When you first sign up for WhatsApp, you’re informed about the pricing model: the first year of service is free; each year after that costs a dollar. A post offering an explanation of why the company charges a nominal fee instead of showing advertising or requiring you to hand over basic demographic information reads like an anti-Facebook manifesto, beginning with a quote from “Fight Club”: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” The post continues, “These days companies know literally everything about you, your friends, your interests, and they use it all to sell ads”—an apt description of WhatsApp’s new owner. After a few more cutting remarks about advertising, such as “no one jumps up from a nap and runs to see an advertisement,” the page concludes, “Your data isn’t even in the picture. We are simply not interested in any of it.”

Facebook, despite being driven primarily by demographics and advertising, is adamant that it won’t change WhatsApp, an indication of just how overarching the company wants to be: in the pursuit of its next billion users, it is now willing to tolerate a highly discordant new product, like a vast empire that contains many competing nations. Empires always fall; the question now is how big Facebook’s can get before it does.

Matt Buchanan on Facebooks acquisition of WhatsApp and the possible demise of its empire

Posted on 2/26/2014
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