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New WhatsApp feature lets users fact-check viral messages

Back in 1996, Brian 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?’

WhatsApp was created by Koum and Acton in 2009 and initially cost $0.99 per year to subscribe. 

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

WhatsApp’s founders made their position on advertising clear in 2012.

‘Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product,’ they said.

‘Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought.

‘When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn’t just another ad clearing house.’ 

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

WhatsApps $0.99 charge to join was scrapped after the acquisition, in 2016, and Facebook has been looking for ways to monetise it since. 

After the acquisition in 2014, Koum reiterated the promise that WhatsApp would never introduce adverts: ‘You can count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication.

‘There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.’ 

Koum and Acton then changed WhatsApp’s terms of service to explicitly forbid ads on the platform in 2016 – hinting that the issue of monetisation was brought about by Facebook fairly soon after the acquisition.

However, Acton left the company in 2017 and Koum in 2018 after arguments over ads and user data.

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

Now WhatsApp is one of the biggest mobile messaging apps with 2 billion users globally.  

Acton is now believed to be worth $5.5 billion (£3.9 billion) and works at Signal Foundation, which he founded in 2018.

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


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