Whatsapp cofounder Brian Acton told an undergraduate class at Stanford University on Wednesday to delete Facebook from their lives - telling students at his alma mater that the social media giant sold its users up the river in a profit-driven orgy of data privacy violations, according to BuzzFeed.
"The capitalistic profit motive, or answering to Wall Street, is what’s driving the expansion of invasion of data privacy and driving the expansion of a lot of negative outcomes that we’re just not happy with," said Acton.
"I wish there were guardrails there. I wish there was ways to rein it in. I have yet to see that manifest, and that scares me."
Acton - who was made a billionaire several times over when he sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $19 billion in 2014, defended the decision. Despite having reservations, Acton says he had to consider his employees, his investors, and his own stake in the company.
“You go back to this Silicon Valley culture and people say, ‘Well, could you have not sold?’ and the answer is no,” he said, referring to his decision to make the “rational choice” to take “a boatload of money."
"I had 50 employees, and I had to think about them and the money they would make from this sale. I had to think about our investors and I had to think about my minority stake. I didn’t have the full clout to say no if I wanted to,” he continued. -BuzzFeed.
Then, after the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal broke, Acton became publicly vocal - tweeting in March 2018 "It is time. #deletefacebook"
It is time. #deletefacebook— Brian Acton (@brianacton) March 20, 2018
Wednesday's appearance marks the second time Acton has publicly spoken about the deteriorating relationship he had with Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In September of 2018, Acton told Forbes "I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit." Acton goes on to describe how Facebook wanted to aggressively monetize WhatsApp to a run rate of $10 billion within five years by pushing ads and offering businesses methods to directly reach Facebook users.
Acton explained that he was naive at the time he sold - thinking that he and follow cofounder Jan Koum could continue doing things "their way" by diversifying revenue in other ways that did not include taking advantage of users.
He said he pushed for a service model, possibly by charging WhatsApp users a small fee to use the app, as the company did in its early days, to counter Facebook’s traditional revenue driver: advertisements. Instead of sucking up user data to help advertisers target ads, Acton and Koum hoped a service model could align their interests with the users’ need for privacy and security. -BuzzFeed.
"WhatsApp’s business model was: We’ll give you service for a year for a dollar," said Acton. "It was not extraordinarily money-making, and if you have a billion users … you’re going to have $1 billion in revenue per year. That’s not what Google and Facebook want. They want multibillions of dollars."
On Thursday, hours after the New York Times reported that Facebook is now under criminal investigation over its data deals, Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post that Chris Cox, Chief Product Officer, and Chris Daniels, CEO of WhatsApp, had decided to leave the company.
Maybe letting appmakers sell the private details of unsuspecting users to the highest bidder just isn't sitting well with some people?