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Last month, the European Commission announced proposed changes to the ePrivacy Directive, a set of rules that regulate how companies collect data online about residents of EU member states. The new proposals will bring messaging, email and voice services under this banner, forcing such platforms to seek the explicit consent of users before being able to use their data for advertising purposes.
At the moment, messaging platforms are largely ad-free—Facebook Messenger allows sponsored messaging, but only if a brand is already part of an open conversation with a consumer. Given the scale and reach of these platforms, there’s clear opportunity to do more. But regulatory changes may curtail any grand plans these platform providers might have to expand marketers’ options.
The implications for Facebook in particular are substantial, given its dominance of the messaging space. December 2016 research conducted by Toluna for digital marketing technology company Kenshoo found that about half of internet users in the UK used WhatsApp and Messenger—well above the usage rates for all other messaging apps included in the survey. In France, the percentages were skewed similarly toward those two apps.
European scrutiny of the relationship between Facebook and WhatsApp has been on the rise—and having an effect. According to November 2016 reporting from the Financial Times, Facebook suspended its collection of WhatsApp user data for advertising purposes on Messenger across Europe as a result of EU pressure. That move, however, didn’t stop the European Commission from filing charges against the company for providing “misleading” information in the run-up to its acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, according to The Guardian.
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