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Meta Unveils AI-Driven Targeted Ads and Chatbot for WhatsApp Business Users

In a significant strategic pivot, Meta is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to monetize WhatsApp, its most popular app in terms of daily users. At a conference in Brazil on Thursday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a series of AI-driven tools designed to help businesses engage more effectively with WhatsApp users, marking a departure from the app’s long-standing commitment to privacy and its aversion to targeted advertising.

The centerpiece of this new strategy is an AI-driven ad targeting program for WhatsApp Business users. This move represents a stark contrast to WhatsApp’s traditional ethos, which has heavily emphasized its end-to-end encryption and privacy features. Previously, businesses could only send bulk messages to all users who had opted in to receive communications. The new AI tools, however, will analyze user behavior on Facebook and Instagram to target WhatsApp business messages to those customers most likely to engage, provided they use the same phone number across these platforms.

Guilherme Horn, WhatsApp’s head of strategic markets, underscored the significance of this change to Reuters. “This is very important for business because they are paying for those messages,” he stated, highlighting how this targeted approach could make advertising on WhatsApp more cost-effective by optimizing ad delivery to the most receptive users.

In addition to targeted ads, Meta introduced an AI chatbot designed to handle common customer inquiries directly within WhatsApp chats. This chatbot can assist users with tasks like finding product catalogs or checking business hours, similar to existing AI-powered customer service platforms. This feature is an early test of Zuckerberg’s broader vision to convince businesses to outsource their customer communications to automated tools.

These AI-driven features are part of Meta’s broader strategy to wring revenue out of WhatsApp. Despite its staggering $22 billion acquisition price in 2014 and its status as Meta’s most-used app, WhatsApp has so far contributed only a small fraction to the company’s overall revenue. To address this, Meta has been gradually introducing commerce and payment features on the app over the past few years.

In line with this strategy, Meta also announced the integration of Brazil’s instantaneous digital payment method, PIX, into WhatsApp’s payment tool in the country. PIX, designed by Brazil’s central bank, accounted for about 39% of transactions in Brazil last year and offers services similar to WhatsApp’s payment tool, such as person-to-person money transfers and purchases from businesses. This move mirrors Meta’s strategy in India last year, where it started offering payment services from rival providers on WhatsApp.

The introduction of these AI-driven tools and the integration of local payment methods underscore Meta’s aggressive push to transform WhatsApp from a primarily communication-focused app into a comprehensive platform for business interactions and e-commerce. However, it also raises questions about how these changes will be received by users who were initially drawn to WhatsApp for its strong privacy assurances and lack of targeted advertising.