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Facebook refutes WhatsApp co-founder’s claim he ‘sold users’ privacy’ when the firm bought his app

Facebook executive David Marcus has fired back at WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton’s criticisms of the social media giant, calling him a ‘whole new standard of low-class.’ 

In a lengthy blog post, Marcus, who oversees Facebook’s blockchain division, defended the firm and that ‘made [him] a billionaire’ and accused Acton of slowing down WhatsApp’s progress. 

It comes after Acton spoke extensively about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and his claim that things went south thereafter in an interview with Forbes. 

Days earlier, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced they would resign from the company ‘to explore our creativity again.’ 

Several reports said friction with CEO Mark Zuckerberg had caused the departures. 

 

Facebook’s head of blockchain David Marcus took a swipe at WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who spoke about his time working for the social media giant in an interview with Forbes

‘Today Forbes published an interview of Brian Acton that contained statements, and recollection of events that differ greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand,’ Marcus, who previously led Facebook Messenger, wrote in the post. 

‘As a result, I felt compelled to write about the actual facts.’ 

Towards the end of the letter, Marcus slams Acton as being ‘low-class’ for how he spoke about Facebook in the interview with Forbes. 

‘…Call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class,’ Marcus wrote. 

Marcus argued that Facebook ’empowers and retains founders and their teams’ after it acquires companies, instead of stifling their ideas like Acton suggested. 

He went on to describe the WhatsApp founders and team as being demanding, asking Facebook to provide ‘a completely different office layout’ at its campus, among other things, which ‘irritated people at Facebook.’ 

Marcus even accused Acton of trying to get in the way of Facebook’s efforts to monetize WhatsApp. 

‘It became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it,’ Marcus said. 

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton admits that he may have forfeited users' privacy when he agreed to let Facebook acquire the popular messaging app for $19 billion

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton admits that he may have forfeited users’ privacy when he agreed to let Facebook acquire the popular messaging app for $19 billion

‘In my view, if you’re passionate about a certain path – in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it – and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don’t be passive-aggressive about it,’ he added.  

Marcus also claimed that Zuckerberg supported the end-to-end encryption rollout on WhatsApp, which occurred after Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014. 

In the interview with Forbes, Acton admitted he may have forfeited users’ privacy when he agreed to let Facebook acquire the popular messaging app.

Acton went on to explain why he left $850 million on the table when he abruptly exited Facebook in 2017, three years after it acquired WhatsApp.   

READ THE FULL LETTER BY DAVID MARCUS ABOUT WHATSAPP CO-FOUNDER BRIAN ACTON 

Title: The other side of the story 

[Disclaimer: no one at Facebook asked me to post this. I just had to do it. And these are my personal views exclusively.]

Today Forbes published an interview of Brian Acton that contained statements, and recollection of events that differ greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand. As a result, I felt compelled to write about the actual facts.

First — there are few companies out there that empower and retain founders and their teams for as long as Facebook does. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger thrived at Facebook for six years, Jan Koum and Brian Acton over four and three years, respectively. For some of them, Facebook is the place they did their best work, and had the most impact in the world. The main reason is because Mark personally shields founders from what typically frustrates them in larger companies, giving them unprecedented autonomy. This attitude towards supporting founders and their teams sometimes comes at a cost to the company. For example, WhatsApp founders requested a completely different office layout when their team moved on campus. Much larger desks and personal space, a policy of not speaking out loud in the space, and conference rooms made unavailable to fellow Facebookers nearby. This irritated people at Facebook, but Mark personally supported and defended it.

Second — on encryption. The global roll-out of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition, and with Mark’s full support. Yes, Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption, but from that point on, it was never questioned. I witnessed Mark defending it a number of internal meetings where there was pushback — never for advertising or data collection reasons but for concerns about safety — and even in Board Meetings. Mark’s view was that WhatsApp was a private messaging app, and encryption helped ensure that people’s messages were truly private.

Third — on the business model. I was present in a lot of these meetings. Again, Mark protected WhatsApp for a very long period of time. And you have to put this in the context of a large organization with businesses knocking on our door to have the ability to engage and communicate with their customers on WhatsApp the same way they were doing it on Messenger. During this time, it became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it. In my view, if you’re passionate about a certain path — in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it — and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don’t be passive-aggressive about it. And by the way the paid messaging that WhatsApp is rolling out now sounds pretty similar to metered messaging from my point of view…

Lastly — call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class.

I’ll close by saying that as far as I’m concerned, and as a former lifelong entrepreneur and founder, there’s no other large company I’d work at, and no other leader I’d work for. I want to work on hard problems that positively impact the lives of billions of people around the world. And Facebook is truly the only company that’s singularly about people. Not about selling devices. Not about delivering goods with less friction. Not about entertaining you. Not about helping you find information. Just about people. It makes it hard sometimes because people don’t always behave in predictable ways (algorithms do), but it’s so worth it. Because connecting people is a noble mission, and the bad is far outweighed by the good. 

Ultimately, Acton’s decision to leave rested on heated disagreements between him and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg over monetizing the app, he claims.

Zuckerberg and Sandberg wanted to show targeted advertisements in WhatsApp and enable businesses to communicate with users in direct messages – both of which Acton strongly disagreed with, given WhatsApp’s core functionality of end-to-end encryption. 

Acton believed Facebook would never abandon its plans to monetize WhatsApp and felt he had no choice but to leave.

‘At the end of the day, I sold my company,’ Acton told Forbes. ‘I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. I live with that every day.

‘…I am a sellout. I acknowledge that,’ Acton added. 

Acton’s grievances with the company that made him a billionaire first became apparent earlier this year when, in the midst of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he tweeted: ‘It is time. #deletefacebook.’  

While Acton was at Facebook, he had fiery standoffs with Zuckerberg and Sandberg over the discussions around monetizing WhatsApp.

Acton's grievances with the company  first became apparent earlier this year when, in the midst of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he tweeted: 'It is time. #deletefacebook'

Acton’s grievances with the company first became apparent earlier this year when, in the midst of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he tweeted: ‘It is time. #deletefacebook’

Ultimately, Acton's decision to leave rested on heated disagreements with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) and COO Sheryl Sandberg over monetizing the app

Ultimately, Acton’s decision to leave rested on heated disagreements with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) and COO Sheryl Sandberg over monetizing the app

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption stood in the way, and Facebook managers questioned and probed ways to offer businesses analytical insights on WhatsApp users while keeping the encrypted environment. 

The report said Acton had proposed monetizing WhatsApp through a metered-user model, charging users after a certain large number of free messages were used up. 

His plans were shot down by Sandberg, who said ‘It won’t scale’.

In one meeting, Acton confronted Zuckerberg and said it was clear that the company intended to implement ads on WhatsApp. 

Zuckerberg reportedly responded: ‘This is probably the last time you’ll ever talk to me,’ according to Acton. 

Acton grew gradually uncomfortable with Facebook’s approach to making money, describing it as ‘if it made us a buck, we’d do it.’  

While he asserts that Facebook ‘isn’t the bad guy’ and that they’re ‘just very good businesspeople,’ he ended up walking away from Facebook.

WhatsApp intends to put ads in its Status feature starting next year, but said 'messages will remain end-to-end encrypted. There are no plans to change that,' according to Forbes

WhatsApp intends to put ads in its Status feature starting next year, but said ‘messages will remain end-to-end encrypted. There are no plans to change that,’ according to Forbes

WHO IS BRIAN ACTON AND WHAT HAS HE DONE?

Brian Acton is the founder of WhatsApp which was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion (£11.4 billion) in 2014 – the largest deal in Facebook’s history. 

According to Forbes, Acton held over 20 per cent stake in the company, making him worth around $3.8 billion (£2.7 billion).

Following Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, Acton donated nearly $290 million (£206 million) to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The foundation commissions research and partners donors with non-profit organisations.

Acton is now believed to be worth $5.5 billion (£3.9 billion) and works at Signal Foundation, which he founded earlier this year.

The aim of the non-profit organisation is ‘to develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.’ 

Back in 1996, Acton was the 44th employee hired by Yahoo as an infrastructural engineer.

For the following nine years he worked at Yahoo and lost millions in the dot-com bubble in 2000.

According to his Twitter he was turned down for a job at Facebook in 2009 and also spent a year travelling.

In the same year he bought an iPhone and decided the App Store – which at the time had only been around for seven months – was going to rapidly expand.

Him and his colleague from Yahoo, Jan Koum, decided they wanted to create something.

Koum reputedly came up with the name WhatsApp because it sounded like ‘what’s up?’

Just one week after he decided he wanted to create the app, he incorporated WhatsApp in California.

Now the company is one of the biggest mobile messaging apps with 1.3 billion active monthly users.

All Acton had to do was stay at Facebook one more year to claim his final set of stock grants, but he said he couldn’t.

‘It was like, well, you want to do these things I don’t want to do,’ Acton told Forbes. ‘It’s better if I get out of your way. And I did.’  

The decision ended up costing him $850 million because his final stock options hadn’t vested yet. 

WhatsApp intends to put ads in its Status feature starting next year, but said ‘messages will remain end-to-end encrypted. There are no plans to change that,’ according to Forbes. 

Meanwhile, Acton’s co-founder, Jan Koum, left the company in April, which meant Koum could claim his final stock grants.  

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Forbes report.       

WHAT IS THE CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA SCANDAL?

Communications firm Cambridge Analytica has offices in London, New York, Washington, as well as Brazil and Malaysia.

The company boasts it can ‘find your voters and move them to action’ through data-driven campaigns and a team that includes data scientists and behavioural psychologists.

‘Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections,’ with data on more than 230 million American voters, Cambridge Analytica claims on its website.

The company profited from a feature that meant apps could ask for permission to access your own data as well as the data of all your Facebook friends.

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (pictured), after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (pictured), after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump

This meant the company was able to mine the information of 87 million Facebook users even though just 270,000 people gave them permission to do so.

This was designed to help them create software that can predict and influence voters’ choices at the ballot box.

The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump.

This information is said to have been used to help the Brexit campaign in the UK.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk