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WhatsApp goes free, says $1 annual charge was a barrier for some users

WhatsApp founder Jan Koum has announced the messaging service will remove the $1 annual charge, making the app completely free to use.

At the DLD Conference, Koum said that the charge prevents a lot of people from using the service, especially those without access to a credit or debit card. The annual charge also wasn’t very popular, according to Koum, with users worried the payment might be for naught if WhatsApp discontinues the service.

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The move makes sense, considering WhatsApp’s core user base. India, Indonesia, and Brazil are three of the main countries for the messaging service, and are all developing countries that boast high usage numbers, but low revenue numbers.

Koum said the change goes into effect today, but anyone that just resubscribed for another year will not be able to receive a refund. WhatsApp has not said how many of its users have subscribed in the past month — we assume the number is quite low.

With its main source of revenue now out of the window, WhatsApp intends to integrate businesses more heavily into the service. The company — which is a part of Facebook’s growing social empire — will test tools that allow businesses to contact interested users. This is similar to Facebook’s Messenger feature that allows businesses to get in contact with users, receive feedback, and also offer customer support all through the application.

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WhatsApp does not plan to implement adverts on its messaging service, which is a relief for users that are sick of mobile advertising. While not mentioned by Koum, we wonder if business accounts like Google and Microsoft offer are being tested internally, or a Pro account with additional value for users that can afford it.

Facebook acquired WhatsApp in late 2014 for $19 billion, the most the social network has paid in an acquisition. Since then, both WhatsApp and Messenger have grown to first and second most popular messaging platforms, with close to 1 billion and 800 million active monthly users, respectively.