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WhatsApp update turns app into Yellow Pages

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The latest WhatsApp update will allow users to use the app like a business directory in some areas of the world (Getty Images)
The latest WhatsApp update will allow users to use the app like a business directory in some areas of the world (Getty Images)

A new feature rolling out with a new WhatsApp update will allow some users to use the message app as a business directory.

A pilot program to test the service will launch in São Paulo, Brazil, giving thousands of local shops and services a presence on the Facebook-owned app.

“I’m excited we’re starting to pilot a local business directory within WhatsApp,” said Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp.

“This will help you find and contact local businesses, like your neighbourhood coffee shop, florist, clothing store and more.”

The Yellow Pages-style service will expand to other countries in the coming months if it proves to be a success, with India and Indonesia the most likely markets to follow.

With more than 2 billion users worldwide, the world’s most popular messaging app typically does local pilots of new features before rolling them out on a global scale.

“Based on feedback from the people who try it over the next few months, we’ll look at expanding this service to other cities and other types of businesses on WhatsApp,” Mr Cathcart said.

How WhatsApp’s new in-app business directory feature will look to users in Brazil (WhatsApp)
How WhatsApp’s new in-app business directory feature will look to users in Brazil (WhatsApp)

It is the latest ploy by Facebook to monetise the app’s vast userbase by courting business users with the promise of new revenue streams and more direct access to customers.

In-app shopping features have also been pushed out across other Facebook apps, though WhatsApp remains unique in that it has so far avoided submitting to Facebook’s ad-led business model.

“There’s definitely a route on ads, which is Facebook’s core business model, that over the long term I think in some form or another will be part of the business model for WhatsApp,” Matt Idema, Facebook’s vice president of business messaging, told Reuters.

Any new feature is likely to face intense scrutiny, particularly when it comes to user privacy. This was always a key focus of WhatsApp’s founders before they sold the app to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, however an enforced update earlier this year proved controversial after the app said it wanted to share specific information with its parent company.

WhatsApp said the data would only be used for commerce features, however the backlash caused the company to pause the rollout and alter the terms.

For the latest update, WhatsApp claims to have built it in “a private way” and will not log users’ location or what businesses they browse.

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