Facebook's WhatsApp Messenger drops annual fees to keep growing userbase

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WhatsApp, the popular messaging service owned by Facebook, is dropping its 99-cent annual charge in order to continue growing, CEO Jan Koum said on Monday.

Instead the company will try to monetize the service by asking businesses to pay if they want to communicate with customers, according to Reuters. That approach is similar to Facebook Messenger, which offers the ability to interact with some companies directly, and even do chat-based shopping.

Until now WhatsApp was only free to use for the first year, costing money each subsequent year. The service has over 900 million users, but annual fees could be a barrier to people in poorer markets who are less likely to have a credit or debit card linked to a service like iTunes or Google Play.

Since it offers both VoIP and text chat, with no international charges, WhatsApp is often a popular way of getting around high cellular fees in some countries, such as Brazil. A Brazilian judge recently shut down WhatsApp in the country for several hours over complaints that it was failing to turn over requested information.

Local telecommunications firms have been pressuring the Brazilian government to find WhatsApp's VoIP service illegal, but no attempts to block it have so far succeeded.