Brands are spamming WhatsApp users in India, Facebook’s largest market

As Meta makes deeper inroads with businesses on WhatsApp, its biggest bet to monetize the instant messaging app with over 2 billion users, we are getting an early glimpse at how user experience might change on the free app. It’s not great.

Scores of people in India, WhatsApp’s largest market by users with over 500 million accounts, have complained about getting too many spam texts from businesses in recent months. WhatsApp, which quickly displaced the SMS app in the country by offering free texts, is increasingly looking like that SMS app, users say.

Thousands of brands in India have signed up for WhatsApp, consistently succeeding in reaching eyeballs of more than 80% of users, a person familiar with the matter said, a figure miles ahead of campaigns run on emails and traditional texts. What’s more annoying is that even after users have blocked some businesses, many return to the inbox from different phone numbers, according to author’s account.

In many ways, the issue doesn’t come as a surprise.

Google offered businesses in India the ability to use RCS to supercharge their communication with customers in the country, the company’s biggest market by users. Rich Communication Services, or RCS, is the collective effort of a number of industry players to supercharge the traditional SMS with modern features such as richer texts and end-to-end encryption.

The company had to halt the service in the country after some businesses started to abuse the company’s anti-spam policies to send promotional messages to users in India.

Read more about WhatsApp’s rampant spam issue on Rest of the World.

A Meta spokesperson offered the following comment:

Messaging is the new way to get business done, better than an e-mail or phone call. Our rule is that people always need to request to receive updates before a business can message them, and we empower people with easy ways to block a business or report a problem at any time. We constantly work with businesses to ensure messages are helpful and expected, and we have limits on the number of messages they can send per day. Getting this right is important for us as well as the businesses and most importantly the people we serve.

Updated, 10/10/22, 5:30 PM ET with Meta comment.