At last night’s Facebook F8 Refresh, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg opened his keynote by stating that 2021’s conference will be all about developers. In other words, though, Facebook took this year’s F8 Refresh to take more of its personal communication services, and turn them into money-making avenues by pitching them as more business friendly. The move continues on the same vein as Facebook has over time, which took the refuge of small businesses to defend its activity tracking against Apple’s privacy permissions feature. Now, at its annual conference, Facebook has highlighted multiple ways in which it aims to make Instagram and WhatsApp more business tools than they were before.
Updates to Instagram
To begin, Facebook opened up its Messenger API for Instagram to developers. This can help Instagram users tie in more closely with businesses, and business users building apps with the API built in could enable features such as automatic business orders directly via Instagram messages.
Facebook also spoke of a new feature called Login Connect with Messenger, which will allow users to give consent to connecting with businesses through Instagram right from the Facebook login page. These new features are most obvious evolutions of the direction that Facebook has been taking, gradually. With features such as Shopping on Instagram, the next stop for Facebook to maximise revenues would be to offer integrated messaging on the platform for users.
More than accessibility, the feature is clearly aimed at keeping more users within its app and Facebook’s group of services. The move comes at a time when Facebook has cried foul against Apple, stating that its new privacy permissions feature will be detrimental to businesses – for whom Facebook wants to be a messiah.
To keep more businesses within its ecosystem, Facebook has integrated Business Apps, or apps built on its API including the new Instagram messaging feature, into the Facebook Business Suite launched last year.
Updates to WhatsApp
On the business messaging front, Facebook is also roping in WhatsApp, yet another private chat tool that the company now wants to be equally relevant for businesses. The new WhatsApp API brings down setup and registration time for WhatsApp business accounts. Facebook is also relaxing the frequency at which a business can contact a customer on WhatsApp, which essentially means a higher number of messages that you may be targeted with from businesses.
People remain in control of their chats, and need to reach out to start a conversation or request a business contact them via WhatsApp.
Facebook’s rationale is that such messaging will actually be very helpful for customers. “We’ve also seen how periodic updates from health authorities about responding to the pandemic have been helpful and we want to make this kind of service available for more types of conversations,” says Facebook. Whether the premise of frequent health updates from automated WhatsApp-based news services stand at the same ground as businesses informing users about new stock arriving at stores is, of course, debatable at best.
Other new announcements include easier ways for businesses and users to talk to each other. “New list messages present a menu of up to 10 options so people no longer need to type out a response. Reply buttons will allow people to quickly make a selection from up to three options with just a quick tap that a business can set ahead of time through their WhatsApp Business API account,” said Facebook.
More user data harvesting?
Hopefully, though, there will be a clear way for users to opt out of any business use cases – for which Facebook collects and collates user metadata in what is an open secret. “People remain in control of their chats. People still need to reach out to start a conversation or request a business contact them via WhatsApp. With these updates, we’re also providing new ways for people to give greater feedback about the experience they are having if they have a reason to block a business,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
While Facebook launched a defence programme to state that its new WhatsApp usage policy only applied to businesses, the fact that it has focused majorly on adding business features that it could monetise to apps that were primarily used for personal communications has been raised time and again by privacy advocates. Facebook, on this ground, holds steadfast that even though it has pushed monetisation features across its products, it has not taken anything away from users, who can choose to continue using WhatsApp just as before, should they want so.