Sep 27, 2018

Founders keep piling on Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

First it was the Instagram co-founders leaving. Now WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton is taking fresh aim at the social network that he sold his company to in 2014 for $22 billion.

Why it matters: The dramatic back-and-forth underscores the disconnect between Facebook’s leaders and the founders of WhatsApp and Instagram as those apps buoyed the company in the face of stagnant growth on its original platform.

What's happening: In an interview with Forbes, Acton provided his first detailed comments since encouraging people to delete Facebook in a March tweet. Acton left Facebook in 2017, and his WhatsApp co-founder, Jan Koum, left earlier this year.

The details: Here's some of what Acton had to say...

  • “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit,” he said. “I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”
  • He also said that while Facebook was instructing him to tell European regulators that it would be difficult to link WhatsApp to Facebook's platforms, the company was exploring that very option. (The company was ultimately fined for misleading regulators during the approval process.)
  • Acton accused Facebook leadership of pushing ad-based revenue strategies, when he believed other approaches would have been successful and better for users.

If Acton needed an Exhibit A, it arrived in a Gizmodo story that reported Facebook was using the phone numbers users provide for two-factor authentication to target ads at them.

What they're saying: Acton's comments, meanwhile, provoked a host of reactions, including a strong rebuke from Facebook's David Marcus, who stressed he was speaking for himself, not the company:

“Lastly — call me old fashioned. But 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. It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class.”

Andreessen Horowitz' Benedict Evans offered a similar criticism:

"This is just a thought, but maybe if you don’t want your product to have ads, don’t sell it to an ad company, or find a way to make it worth the ~$18bn they paid without taking ads, or both."

Our thought bubble: Yes, all the sniping between members of Silicon Valley's wealthy founder class is entertaining. But the disagreements underscore the discord growing within Facebook's key acquisitions right when the company needs them most.

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