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Today at Facebook’s annual F8 developer summit, the company gave an update on WhatsApp, the messaging platform it acquired for $19 billion in February 2014. Specifically, it said that WhatsApp — which had 1.5 billion users in 180 countries as of late last year, making it the most popular instant messaging app worldwide, above second-place Facebook Messenger with 1.3 billion users — will gain a pair of features focused on security and commerce.
Facebook took the wraps off of Product Catalog, which will allow users to see what’s available from businesses participating in WhatsApp Business when the feature rolls out later this year. “This is going to be especially important for all of the small businesses out there that don’t have a web presence, and that are increasingly using private social platforms is their main way of interacting with their customers,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg onstage.
The standalone WhatsApp Business app was first made available in January 2018. In April of that year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reported that WhatsApp Business had more than 3 million users.
Facebook also announced that it’s releasing a software development kit to integrate WhatsApp verification into Account Kit — Facebook’s tool that lets people quickly register for and log into apps by using their phone number or email address — for iOS and Android. App developers can give users the option to use WhatsApp to send verification codes as an alternative to SMS for phone number login, and even choose to disable SMS verification.
It’s been available on WhatsApp’s web SDK since last year.
In other news, Portal owners can now make encrypted calls through WhatsApp on Portal, Facebook’s smart display. And peer-to-peer payments, which launched in India earlier this year for “millions” of users, will come to other countries in the coming months, Zuckerberg announced.
Facebook has shown WhatsApp lots of love this year, with new functionality rolling out on the regular.
Last August saw the launch of the Business API, which allows organizations to manage and send non-promotional handcrafted and automated messages to customers — like appointment reminders, shipping info, or event tickets — for a fixed rate. (Uber, Booking.com, and KLM Airlines were among the first 90 customers.) Click-to-WhatsApp ads debuted alongside it; they add buttons to advertisements that invite people to chat on WhatsApp groups.
In April, WhatsApp gained new options that allow users to control who can add them to groups and to invite users to rooms with links that expire after 72 hours. At the time, Facebook executives said they were in part an effort to prevent toxic political organizations from adding people to as many groups as possible to propagate their messages. (Groups can have up to 256 people in them.)
Last February, WhatsApp took steps to tackle misinformation ahead of national elections in India, one of Facebook’s largest markets with over 200 million users. The app has been blamed for inciting violence that cost dozens of lives and contributing to ethnic violence in Myanmar, and for spreading hateful and racist messages about prominent political figures.
WhatsApp is now actively banning about two million accounts on its platform each month using machine learning (20% at the time of registration), 75% of which are handled without human intervention or a report filed by a user. Separately, it recently enforced a limit on the number of texts that can be forwarded to other users and partnered with fact checkers Boom Live and Alt News, as well as news consortium Ekta.