WhatsApp is officially stopping their bulk messaging service starting from December 7. The company intends to use technical and legal means against users who engage or assist the distribution of bulk messages which will now violate the Terms of Service.
Earlier this year and mid fake news circulation during the Lok Sabha elections in India, WhatsApp warned it would start taking legal action against individuals and companies, who misuse the app or send messages to a lot of people in violation of its terms and conditions. At the time the platform said in a blog post that “WhatsApp will take legal action against those we determine are engaged in or assisting others in abuse that violates our Terms of Service, such as automated or bulk messaging, or non-personal use, even if that determination is based on information solely available to us off our platform”.
In the blog post, WhatsApp also said that it is aware of businesses trying to evade its machine learning systems and had already stopped millions of abusive accounts from using its services.
"We are committed to reinforcing the private nature of our platform and keeping users safe from abuse. We recently detailed our on-platform capabilities to identify and ban accounts in this white paper" it said.
The enforcement is intended to make WhatsApp a more pure platform for personal communication. Since they are under the Facebook group online steps to punish offenders could be the same as how it is dealt with o Facebook, to identify and ban accounts violating the service terms.
In addition to technological enforcement, there will also be legal action against individuals or companies. It is not clear what the procedure will be, however, WhatsApp reserves its right to continue taking legal action in such circumstances.
Business Insider South Africa was one of the first to publish an update for their subscribers regarding their newsletter. The company said in a post that they apologise for the inconvenience and have provided their subscribers with alternative methods to obtain their weekly newsletter.
Founder of Zimbabwe’s news platform 263Chat, Nigel Mugamu said the enforcement of the ban has not affected his organisation in the sense that he thought it would and is quite pleased that the organisation didn’t make the decision to automate their content.
He said that he and his organisation continue to manually as they have been doing, and advised to do so.
In Zimbabwe, the cost of data is one of the highest in Africa, yet WhatsApp is essentially the internet for people. Mugamu stressed that “No one in the country will really say ‘can you please buy me a smartphone’, but rather, ‘can you please buy me a phone with WhatsApp’”.
He also said that when it comes to WhatsApp taking users or companies to court, it will be quite unlikely for Zimbabwean companies to be monitored. This he believes is likely be focused on nations like India and Nigeria.
Nigel also noted that during the Zimbabwe internet shutdowns, when WhatsApp and various other platforms were inaccessible, 263Chat’s alternative method was to use Telegram.
However, telephone companies do not offer bundles for Telegram which would then create a challenge for low-income users.
Arena Holdings Group MD Riaan Wolmaraans said that his company stopped using WhatsApp early in 2019. Wolmeraans believed the bulk-messaging service was a great exercise for brand awareness but Arena had found it was a tedious process to implement the service and that traffic wasn’t meaningfully high.
Wolmeraans added that from a publishing perspective Arena was aware their readers use WhatsApp but reaching them was quite difficult, even in the beginning when service was first available.
“WhatsApp has never really made the kind of tools that are available on Twitter and Facebook to speak to people as a brand”, he said.
One application could potentially take support businesses in bulk-messaging is the Moya Messaging App, an application developed by BiNu which is part of a data-free initiative, offering a collection of apps and sites and can compete with WhatsApp in South Africa.
Moya app for android offers a free service as it has reverse billing agreements with South Africa’s leading network providers. Like WhatsApp, offers unlimited texting, group chat, end-to-end security with automatic encryption of all messages and automatic contact discovery.
WhatsApp does say they will continue to provide capabilities to help businesses communicate with customers. You can learn more about these initiatives by visiting the WhatsApp Business app and WhatsApp Business API pages.
*Herald Live is part of the Arena Holdings Group and used the service more regularly than other companies in the group.