A long time after blocking apps that used its name, WhatsApp is said to have now started sending legal notices to third-party app developers that use Google's official Android APIs to tweak user experiences for messaging platforms. The initial list of apps that have received threats from the Facebook-owned company includes DirectChat, an app that has over 500,000 downloads and is used to offer Facebook Messenger-like Chat Heads for any instant messaging app. Interestingly, WhatsApp is among the apps for which the DirectChat app offers Chat Head notifications. This isn't the first time when WhatsApp has taken the legal route to restrict certain apps. In 2015, WhatsApp had sent a cease and desist notice to WhatsApp+ and other third-party clients that were using WhatsApp name and mimicking the experience. The company even temporary banned users utilising third-party clients to continue its domination.
Unlike the case of WhatsApp+ and other third-party messaging clients that were aiming to attract WhatsApp users, DirectChat isn't offering an experience similar to WhatsApp in any way. The app essentially uses Google's NotificationListenerService to listen to incoming notifications and display them in the form of Chat Heads, the ones that debuted on Facebook's Home app in 2013 and are currently available through the Messenger app. However, since the app modifies the user experiences for WhatsApp users by offering its notifications through Chat Heads, it is allegedly violating WhatsApp terms.
"I don't see anything wrong in how these apps work and function since they are using Google's own public Notification API to fetch and display texts, but WhatsApp lawyers just sent me Cease & Desist letter that I am violating their Terms & Services and should immediately terminate its service. I can understand them shutting down WhatsApp+ and other such modded apps that directly interfere with their service but how can a simple notification manager application is against their T&S," the developer behind the DirectChat app writes in a Reddit post.
In addition to the NotificationListernerService implementation, the DirectChat app uses Android's built-in DirectReply service to enable replies directly from Chat Head notifications. This is again tweaking the experience for WhatsApp users. However, it is unclear how the utilisation of the open service is infringing on the rights of the instant messaging app that has over 1.5 billion monthly active users.
The alleged legal notice, as shared through a separate Reddit post, forces the developers to discontinue the app "immediately and permanently" as it "violates" the provisions of using WhatsApp services. "WhatsApp demands that you immediately cease all development, distribution, promotion, operation, sale, and offering of Your Service at all distribution points - including websites and social media accounts - and confirm you will not in the future develop, distribute, promote, operate, sell, and/or offer Your Service or any like code, products, services, or resources," the WhatsApp is seen to have said in the shared letter.
Apart from the DirectChat developer, WhatsApp is said to have sent an identical letter to some other developers as well, including the ones who've built the Can't Talk app. As AndroidPolice notes, the threats from WhatsApp could make things difficult for indie developers as it already has access to the vast resources of Facebook.
We've reached out to WhatsApp for clarity on legal notices and will update this space accordingly. We've also sent an email query to Google to see how it will ensure freedom for developers building apps using Android's native APIs and services.