Jan Koum defends WhatsApp users’ right to privacy following $19bn acquisition by Facebook earlier this month
WhatsApp founder Jan Koum has denied claims that the app will soon be hit by new privacy policies following its acquisition by Facebook.
In a company blog post, Koum hit out against “careless and inaccurate” reports saying that the popular messaging service will see major changes to its privacy rules following the $19bn buyout by the social media giant which was announced earlier this month.
“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible,” he wrote. “If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it.”
In the blog, entitled “Setting the record straight”, Koum stated that he would not have allowed the company, which he established in 2009, to be acquired by Facebook if it meant changing core WhatsApp policies such as not asking for users’ names, email addresses or birthdays.
“Speculation to the contrary isn’t just baseless and unfounded, it’s irresponsible,” he added. “It has the effect of scaring people into thinking we’re suddenly collecting all kinds of new data. That’s just not true.”
Koum also said that he would not allow user data to be used for advertising, stating that the app would not seek to monitor what users search for or track their GPS location.
“None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that,” he said.
Since the news of the acquisition broke last month, there has been growing unrest from users concerning what Facebook plans to do with the data from WhatApp’s approximately 450 million users. Earlier this month, a compliant was filed with the Federal Trade Commission by two privacy groups, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, who were concerned about the deal’s impact on ‘consumer privacy’, given Facebook’s previous attempts to monetise its user base.
Facebook, which unlike WhatsApp is free to use, responded to the claims by stating that WhatsApp would operate as a separate company, with the social network promising to “honour its commitments to privacy and security,”
Freedom of speech
Koum harked back to his childhood growing up in Soviet-governed Ukraine to emphasise how important privacy is to him, saying that “One of my strongest memories from that time is a phrase I’d frequently hear when my mother was talking on the phone: “This is not a phone conversation; I’ll tell you in person.”
It was the respect for free speech, Koum said, that was one of the key reasons his family moved to the US when he was a teenager, stating that this belief has stayed with him ever since.
“Make no mistake: our future partnership with Facebook will not compromise the vision that brought us to this point,” he concluded. “Our focus remains on delivering the promise of WhatsApp far and wide, so that people around the world have the freedom to speak their mind without fear.”
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