With a renewed focus on revenue, it’s the first time the app has changed its policy since it was acquired by Facebook for $21.8bn two years ago.
The updated terms will grant the social network access to users’ phone numbers and analytics data, facilitating better tailored ads on its core platform.
WhatsApp’s founders have long taken a principled stance against ads. The frontpage of the app’s website displays a quote from Fight Club’s Tyler Durden:
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we dont need.”
The message service, which is otherwise known for its end-to-end encryption and stringent privacy terms, assured users phone numbers would not be made public and that messages would remain encrypted.
Practical applications could include receiving fraud notifications from your bank, or messages from airlines regarding flight delays, WhatsApp said.
“Our belief in the value of private communications is unshakeable, and we remain committed to giving you the fastest, simplest, and most reliable experience on WhatsApp,” the company said.
Businesses could also end up using the service to send order, transaction and appointment information, as well as delivery updates and receipts, WhatsApp said.
While targeted marketing messages may end up being part of the service, the company said it did not want to overwhelm users.
The move mimics the introduction of chatbots on sister platform Facebook Messenger, which will soon support marketing.
“We do not want you to have a spammy experience,” WhatsApp said.
But in a move that could spark controversy among privacy advocates, the company announced it would start sharing account information within the “Facebook family of companies”, including photo-sharing app Instagram and virtual reality technology company Oculus.
WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014 in a deal worth 21.8 billion US dollars (£16.5 billion).
Account information will be used to “improve Facebook ads and products experiences”, the policy statement said.
Phone numbers will be connected with Facebook’s systems and used for targeted ads and friend suggestions, but would not be shared or sold to advertisers, WhatsApp said.
It will also track “basic metrics” such as how often people are using the app.