WhatsApp founder Brian Acton sold his company to Facebook four years ago, and according to a recent exclusive interview with Forbes Magazine, he acknowledges that he sold user’s privacy along with it.
Acton and his partner sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for a stunning $22 billion, which was unheard of for an app at that time – especially one that had yet to make money off of its platform. Acton stayed on with the company until last year - when he left $850 million on the table from his stock options before they vested - to take a stand against the direction Facebook wanted to go with his popular messaging platform.
Acton claims that he pushed back as Facebook execs wanted to add commercial messaging and targeted ads, which he’s been against from the app’s conception. As the world’s biggest messaging service, WhatsApp provides ad-free, encrypted messaging, which made it appealing to its users. In fact, the encrypted technology had been part of the app’s structure from the start, because the founders were privacy advocates. Facebook didn’t feel the same way, according to Acton.
He told Forbes that while Facebook execs are “good businesspeople” he didn’t agree with their “business practices, principles, and ethics.” As the magazine points out, he paid a steep price for taking a moral stand against the company.
“It was like, okay, well, you want to do these things I don’t want to do,” Acton says to Forbes. “It’s better if I get out of your way. And I did.”
Facebook was challenged by WhatsApp’s encryption, which stopped the companies from reading individual messages. According to Acton, Facebook managers looked for ways to gather analytics and work around the app’s basic construct. Eventually, he decided to part ways rather than fight them at every turn.
“At the end of the day, I sold my company,” Acton said to Forbes. “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”
The news from Acton comes on the heels of a surprise departure of the two founders of Instagram, an immensely popular app that was also acquired by Facebook. While the Instagram founders haven’t publicly stated why they parted ways, Acton’s inside view can cause people to speculate if it was under similar circumstances. If Facebook is primarily focused on selling user data to make money, then what is the cost for users?
According to Acton, Zuckerberg told him that he considered WhatsApp “a product group to him, like Instagram.”
Acton now is a philanthropist and dedicates his time and money to healthcare and early childhood development. He’s also invested in Signal, a security-oriented app, according to Mashable.