If you live in the US, chances are you’ve at least heard of WhatsApp, the messaging app that Meta acquired in 2014.
But if you live in other parts of the world, like India, the service is more than just an app to communicate with friends and family.
“WhatsApp in India is a way of life,” said Rajeev Khera, founder of food technology business Chakki Peesing, which operates out of New Delhi.
Khera is one of the millions of Indians who conduct business primarily through WhatsApp. And it’s not just businesses: An estimated 400 million people in India use WhatsApp to stay in touch with relatives abroad, send money, access critical medical information and more.
WhatsApp’s simple design helped make it an international success, especially in countries where most people don’t have iPhones to use iMessage, or affordable cell phone plans to send SMS messages. When Meta bought WhatsApp eight years ago in a record $19 billion cash and stock deal, it was considered a risky bet. Today, while it doesn’t contribute much to Meta’s bottom line, WhatsApp is arguably the company’s most essential international product.
At the same time, WhatsApp has struggled with some of the same misinformation issues that have plagued Facebook. But unlike Facebook, WhatsApp uses private, encrypted communication software that makes it difficult for the company to moderate content. This problem is particularly acute in India, where baseless rumors spread on the app have led to serious consequences. The Indian government has recently threatened to crack down on one of WhatsApp’s core values: user privacy, with regulators calling for a way for authorities to access people’s messages when necessary. Will Meta continue to keep WhatsApp messages private even as pressure mounts?
“You have to think about what it means to provide a service where people communicate their most private thoughts, most private messages, most private calls to the people they care about most around the world,” said Will Cathcart, current chief of department How are you.
We examine how WhatsApp became so powerful, and the consequences of that power for the rest of Meta’s apps, in our sixth episode of the new season of Land of the Giants, Vox Media Podcast Network’s award-winning narrative podcast series about the most influential tech companies of our time. This season, Recode and The Verge teamed up over seven episodes to tell the story of Facebook’s journey to become Meta, featuring interviews with current and former executives.
Listen to the sixth episode of Land of the Giants: The Disruption of Facebook / Metaand watch the first five episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.