“I think I left the car unlocked, can you check?” reads a text message displayed on one of the billboards. The consequence, outlined next to the text bubble: “Unless your private texts are end-to-end encrypted, they are not private.”
Data provided to CNN Business by research firm eMarketer shows that as of last year, WhatsApp had fewer than 63 million users in the United States, or about 19% of the country’s population. This is a far cry from its audience in countries such as India, Brazil and Indonesia, where it is one of the most popular ways to communicate. According to eMarketer, there are about 500 million WhatsApp users in India alone, which is more than a third of its population and more than half of the Internet user base.
This marks the first time that WhatsApp, which has declined to release statistics on how many users it currently has in the United States, has launched an ad campaign in the country.
“Over time, we’ve seen more people in the US turn to WhatsApp,” Eshan Ponnadurai, the platform’s head of marketing that spearheaded the ad campaign, said in a statement emailed to CNN Business, though he acknowledged the break with the rest. peace. “We’re just, in a sense, representing ourselves in the US.”
The development of WhatsApp in the US could have a positive impact on other platforms and create new monetization opportunities in a lucrative market. But to achieve this, WhatsApp must fight an uphill battle to change how Americans text and perhaps how they feel about WhatsApp’s parent company.
Fighting to Change the Way Americans Write
With over 2 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp has become the dominant messaging service in many parts of the world, including much of Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
“The only common denominator is SMS, a 30-year-old technology,” said Inderpal Singh Mumik, CEO of New Jersey-based communications company Dotgo. helps businesses communicate with customers through various messaging apps.
But the rollout has been slow and SMS remains popular. Mumik estimates that there are about 40 million RCS users in the US out of 500 million worldwide.
WhatsApp, which works the same no matter what device it’s used on, appears to have settled on a strategy to convince Americans to make the switch – appealing to their desire for data privacy..
Ponnadurai said WhatsApp saw the growing data privacy conversation as “an opportunity to educate Americans who are missing out on secure communication because they’re still using SMS.”
According to some privacy experts, the argument that SMS is insecure makes sense.
“SMS is definitely insecure,” said Riana Pfefferkorn, an encryption and privacy researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory. The telecommunications architecture that allows text messaging, known as the SS7 protocol, has vulnerabilities that “leave American calls and text messages unprotected from attackers,” she added.
“In terms of encryption policy, now is the most important time to launch a public relations campaign touting the benefits of an encrypted chat app,” Pfefferkorn said. “Americans are aware that they need and deserve privacy and security for their communications, but they may not know that end-to-end encryption is a great way to meet these needs, or may not understand that WhatsApp [encrypted] default.”
But the biggest problem WhatsApp faces in trying to convince Americans to switch may come from its own parent company.
“The company’s numerous breaches of confidentiality have created a general climate of distrust,” Pfefferkorn said. “People just don’t believe that Facebook really respects their privacy, and a lot of people don’t even believe that Facebook [and] WhatsApp really can’t read their WhatsApp messages.”
But ingrained texting habits and the mistakes of your own parent company will likely make this battle hard.
“Facebook has completely eroded public trust, so if the US PR strategy doesn’t work, Facebook will blame itself,” Pfefferkorn said.