Co-founder of WhatsApp Brian Acton admits selling out the privacy of WhatsApp users to Facebook
The co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, has admitted he clashed with Facebook management over its attempts to wring money from its popular messaging app.
Acton also admitted that he had sold the privacy of WhatsApp users, and disagreements happened between him and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg before he left the firm.
The admission comes just days after the departures of Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger this week, who said they wanted to explore their “curiosity and creativity again”.
Those latest executive exits raised questions about the social media company’s direction amidst a changing user base and new regulatory pressures.
But in an interview with Forbes, Acton revealed some of the internal tensions within Facebook and its fully owned divisions.
Facebook of course acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for a staggering $22bn, despite the fact that WhatsApp at the time had a tiny revenue stream.
WhatsApp co-founder Acton left Facebook in November last year, and was followed by Jan Koum in May 2018, after he also reportedly clashed with Facebook’s attempts to use its personal data and weaken its encryption.
Since his departure, Acton then joined a number of former executives critical of Facebook and this year he stunned Facebook executives when he tweeted “it is time. #deletefacebook” following the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.
Acton hasn’t sent another Tweet since.
According to the Forbes article, Acton was under pressure from Zuckerberg and Sandberg to monetise WhatsApp, but he pushed back.
“It was like, okay, well, you want to do these things I don’t want to do,” Acton is quoted as saying. “It’s better if I get out of your way. And I did.”
Although the acquisition by Facebook made Action a billionaire, he apparently departed Facebook before his final tranche of stock grants matured. That decision to leave before his grants matures is reported to have cost him $850m.
“At the end of the day, I sold my company,” Acton said. “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”
Acton said that Zuckerberg and Sandberg were good business people, but that they had a mission to try and make as much money from WhatsApp that ran counter to Acton’s and WhatsApp’s core principles.
Indeed, things got so bad at one stage that Jan Koum was forced to deny claims that the app would soon be hit by new privacy policies following its acquisition by Facebook.