In an exclusive interview given to Forbes yesterday, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Actons opened up for the first time since he left Facebook 10 months ago, about why he left Facebook and why he regrets selling the company to Facebook, criticizing Facebook’s monetization strategy. In a post titled, “The other side of the story”, head of Facebook Messenger unit, David Marcus responded back to Acton’s allegations.
About four years ago, Acton and his co-founder, Jan Koum, sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $22 billion making it Facebook’s largest acquisition till date. Ten months ago, Acton quit Facebook stating, he was looking to work for a non-profit. Then in March, as Facebook was at the receiving end of a public backlash after the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, he sent out a viral tweet: “It is time. #deletefacebook.” with no explanation. Pretty soon, momentum gathered behind the #DeleteFacebook campaign, with several media outlets publishing guides on how to permanently delete Facebook accounts. In April, the other Whatsapp co-founder Jan Koum also left Facebook due to the difference of opinion over data privacy and the messaging app’s business model, according to a report from The Washington Post.
What Acton has said in the Forbes Interview
After several months of this tweet, Acton has now opened up about why he left Facebook and his regrets over selling WhatsApp to Facebook. He also talks about his disagreements with Mark Zuckerberg. In an interview with Forbes, he seems to feel remorse for his actions, stating “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.” He further states that Facebook “isn’t the bad guy, just very good businesspeople.”
Facebook had tried to put a nondisclosure agreement in place, as part of his proposed settlement in the end. Acton says, “That was part of the reason that I got sort of cold feet in terms of trying to settle with these guys. It was like, okay, well, you want to do these things I don’t want to do,” Acton says. “It’s better if I get out of your way. And I did.” He refused to take the deal and lost $800 million in the process.
Acton also says that he was never able to develop a rapport with Zuckerberg. “I couldn’t tell you much about the guy,” he says. Acton was unhappy with Facebook’s monetization strategy. Facebook wanted WhatsApp to make money via showing targeted ads in WhatsApp’s Status feature and also selling businesses (and later analytics) tools to chat with WhatsApp users. Both these proposals were criticized by Acton who felt it “broke a social compact with its users.” His vision for Whatsapp being “No ads, no games, no gimmicks”.
David Marcus’ ‘The other side of the story’
Acton’s interview has not gone down well with many in Facebook evident from the strong emotional response applauding Marcus’ post from those within Facebook. David Marcus, one of Facebook’s high-level executives in the Facebook messaging unit, has publicly responded stating that the “interview of Brian Acton that contained statements, and recollection of events that differ greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand.” However, he did clarify early on that this is his personal view and not that of Facebook’s and that he has not been asked by anyone at Facebook to post his account of what happened.
He says that Mark Zuckerberg has always supported founders and their teams much better than others even at a cost to the company. Per his post, “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.”
He also called Acton’s claims that Facebook wanted WhatsApp to become a money-minting app, dubious. End-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition. Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption. Once with Mark’s full support, whenever the encryption proposal faced backlash, it was defended by him—never for advertising or data collection but about concerns for ‘safety’. Mark’s view was that WhatsApp was a private messaging app, and encryption helped ensure that people’s messages were truly private.
Marcus also accuses Acton of “slow-playing development” while advocating for business messaging. “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.
He also completely demolished Acton’s statements by saying that he finds Acton’s actions a new standard of low-class. “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.”
He also took a hidden jibe at other tech companies saying, “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.”. This part of his perspective has been criticized by the public most.
People, in general, had varied views about Marcus’ post. While some agreed
Others sided with Acton.
As of now, there is no official response from Facebook.