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WhatsApp co-founder accuses Facebook of trading privacy for revenue (dailymail.co.uk)
94 points by uladzislau 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments





I remember his words from an interview "I sold the privacy of my users for a huge profit. I made a decision that compromised my principles, and I must live with that every day."

This guy should have his own character in the next season of Silicon Valley series.

Give your billions to the poor and move on you poor guy


> Give your billions to the poor and move on you poor guy

How exactly is gonna help the people and the guy?

It's not that people are not gonna be tracked by tech giants after he donates his billions or something.


Honestly, I kind of agree. If he feels so bad about it, donate the money somewhere. Right now, he is having his cake and eating it too.

He could invest the billions into making viable alternatives that respect user privacy.

As Conversations showed in the XMPP land, just a single full-time developer paid from his work on the client can make a huge difference. The foundations are strong (XMPP and Matrix), what you need now is some resources. XSF is notoriously understaffed.

What he think was going to happen when he sold to a company that made its money by advertising based on user’s personal information?

He’s either naive or disingenuous.


With the proposed 1$/yr/user it is going to take around 19 years to become profitable (with 1bn paid users). Facebook obviously wants a return earlier.

The founder did take those billions, so not sure what he was expecting to happen, ads looks like the only business model to turn profit quickly in this sort of business.

Besides, there are so many people using WhatsApp in developing countries that wouldn't pay if they can get something similar for free and competition in chat apps is big.


I never understand why ads and subscription fee needs to be an exclusive or for how the big players monetize.

I'd happily give Google $5/month for Gmail, $10/month for YouTube (I already do), $10/month for google search etc or $40/month for their complete package if they remove ads and respect privacy then. It's less than other "semi-essential" services I have to use like my ISP or car and if they make more than that of me from advertisements the advertising/marketing market must be bonkers.


Youtube is still useful when not all of your friends use it. Chat apps are not

If you can afford $40/month to use Google, then they can make much more than that simply showing you ads.

You hear that sometimes but I don't buy it. If that was the case than 1st class in an airline would be plastered with ads, but it isn't.

> ads looks like the only business model to turn profit quickly in this sort of business.

Tencent makes relatively little from ads in Wechat. They earn most from games and payment fees.


Because selling loot boxes and other in app consumables is so much more ethical....

Better article on the same topic from 3 days ago:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/whatsapp-brian-...


I just want to say, if I were in his position, I would also trade my company for sweet millions of dollars.

But at least I would not constantly call out the people I sold it to, as if my words had any meaning at that point.

Also, it's frustrating to me, to see how it's seemingly impossible to care about the users AND have enough users bringing in revenue at the same time so that you are never in a position where big companies try to blackmail you with sweetsane amounts of money into giving them access to data.

Edit: After reading the responses, I must correct myself. The turmoil within the human soul is much more nuanced, rendering "stop flame, whin0r" an inadequate response. The only thing I know is that I'd probably have done the same, as I reckon most would have.


I see nothing hypocritical about good people taking payment from evil people. “Payment” means that the resources of the payer go down, and the resources of the payee go up. Now Facebook have less money that they can use to influence the world in stupid/evil ways, and the WhatsApp founders have more money they can use to influence the world in good ways.

And, in exchange, since Facebook now owns the service of WhatsApp, they have the adopted duty of popularizing it—a service that inherently resists the kind of centralized analytical approaches Facebook uses to make money, and steals users away from Facebook in ways that makes it harder for Facebook to track those same isers. Win/win for the WhatsApp founders’ perspective; lose/lose from Facebook’s perspective. It’s a wonder they went for it. (It’s sort of like if Google were to acquire Brave: all they’d get is a browser that steals Chrome users and inherently prevents Google from tracking them, that nobody would accept if it was turned into not-that, because that’s its whole thing.)


It really doesn't though. Facebook paid for WhatsApp because it was worth more to them than money. Their resources and influence have increased.

So they believe.

If there is an “evil” person/organization, that usually means that they have one or more terminal preferences that you would think of as evil. But they also probably have non-evil terminal preferences as well. And they’re just as likely to spend money to satisfy their non-evil terminal preferences as their evil ones.

Any transaction with an evil person/organization, that satisfies their non-evil terminal preferences, should be encouraged, because you’re decreasing the resources they have available to them to do evil with, without causing evil to happen.

Facebook bought WhatsApp because it increases the size of their social graph, sure. But if I consider “making statistical associations between people” a morally-neutral act, and “actively spying on the particular actions of individuals” to be an evil act, then “feeding” Facebook the WhatsApp social graph was, from my perspective, a setback on the pace of the evil they were doing. In an alternative world where they didn’t buy WhatsApp but instead just outcompeted it with Messenger and everyone switched from WhatsApp to Messenger, Facebook would have done more evil by spying on conversations that—in this world—it didn’t get to spy on, because they occurred in the interim period where they owned WhatsApp but hadn’t fully wiretapped it yet.

Sure, it will finish digesting WhatsApp and change it into something that allows them to spy on people. In the meantime, the WhatsApp founders are free of working for WhatsApp; and so could, theoretically, just build (or, more easily, invest in the creation of) another secure social network. And then trust people to just decide to abandon WhatsApp for its Facebook-owned-ness (like they’re already abandoning Messenger for its Facebook-owned-ness) and switch to it.

It’s a cycle: Facebook will probably make every successive competitor secure-chat network company an offer they can’t refuse, and absorb them. But this results in less evil being done to people than a world where those networks never existed in the first place; and, in the process, Facebook’s total revenue and market share (even including those acquisitions!) are shrinking, because they shed huge amounts of money for each acquisition, and the time they spend “digesting” these companies is time their employees have to spend doing redundant work—making a beach-head into data-legibility of these user-bases, rather than actively exploiting the data-legibility of the users they’ve got. In other words, these acquisitions are revenue-negative for the first year or two, because they can’t immediately shove their hooks in, and so there’s nothing there to immediately sell to advertisers.

The Roman Empire collapsed because it got too big and didn’t have its distant member states under its control. It couldn’t tax them, or use them as soldiers in its wars. In theory, you could have made it collapse faster, by accelerating the rate at which it acquired these loosely-held fringe member states.

Or, for another analogy: your liver only has so much garbage it can process from your body at once. Give it too much to do—too many molecules to xenometabolize and “absorb” into safe bodily molecules—and the result is called “septic shock.”

Acquisitions are a poison. You can do one or two at a time, but even then, they’ll slow you down; slow down the rate at which you act upon the stuff you fully control. And if you do too many of them, you’ll just keel over.

Personally, I want to feed Facebook as many companies as possible. Ideally, feed it companies where the founders then leave and build more companies to feed it, with the aim of extracting unbounded amounts of resources from—and continuously poisoning—the behemoth. (Heck, these acquired companies have employees that get absorbed, too. Hopefully they’re vetted by the founders as following their ethical precepts. If they are, then the founders are essentially air-dropping good people into Eviltopia—good people who the evilcorp can’t just clean-sweep out without stalling the acquired company. That’s even more “poison” it has to deal with, and even more revenue-negative delay.)


Facebook uses WhatsApp’s social graph. They may not monitor the content of your messages but they do monitor who you’re talking to.

This is silly. There is zero reason why Facebook can’t slowly erode whatever features of WhatsApp that don’t conform to the Facebook plan. They own it now.

If you want to make moral stands and gestures, don’t sell out. It’s not that complicated.


This may be the most elaborate rationalization of selling out I’ve ever read.

No, I’ve got a better one, actually!

Lotteries are a net benefit for society, because they transfer money from irrational people (ticket buyers) to rational people (lottery runners.) Even if the lottery-runners are not good people†, the fact that they’re rational means that they’ll be spending more of their newly-acquired resources on “wise” (usually morally-neutral) investments, and less on things that end up benefitting evil people, like buying illegal drugs.

My whole stance, here, is that you can take a graph of economic transactions, and color the vertices as being good or evil. Consequentialism would suggest doing whatever moves the most money (across the entire economy, as nth-degree knock-on reactions to your action) from evil actors to good actors.

One consequence of this stance: you should never (before considering those nth-degree effects) buy from a person/company you think is evil. You’re helping them liquidate their assets! Now they have more freedom to do evil with them!

(Whereas, in the opposite case, if you sell an evil person a house, now they just... have a house. It’s a mostly-illiquid asset. They can’t do much with it except live in it. If you sell evil a house—knowing they’re going to live in it, not hold it or flip it as an investment property—then you’re effectively letting evil voluntarily freeze part of its assets. Great!)

The sound bite version of all this: if $dictator wants to pay all their money to be hooked up to an eternal-bliss machine, it is your moral duty to take that money. Whether or not you think they “deserve” eternal bliss, they’re getting something that doesn’t harm anyone else; and in exchange, you’re taking all the resources they’d use to harm anyone in the future away from them. This isn’t selling out: it’s a negotiated solution that satisfies both parties’ preferences (where your morals are part of your preferences.)

I fully believe that this is how we’ll have to deal with any aliens we ever meet. They’ll want some things we think are evil. We’ll want some things they think are evil. The solution is to trade, as much as possible, in ways that satisfy the mutually-acceptable shared subset of our preferences—which comes, on both sides, at the expense of our resources to do mutually-unacceptable things. (I.e., not the GDP-improving kind of trade; the “money is disappearing from the economy” kind of trade, e.g. employing foreign experience-service providers where you get nothing fungible in return for your money.)

——

† Lottery runners—at least in the case of state-run lotteries—are actually usually pretty okay people. They’re usually the same people who run state alcohol licensing: i.e., “temperance”/“moderation” people, the kind who wanted prohibition passed back when. The newer generations of them aren’t activists, but beuraucratic pragmatists; they know they can’t just prohibit these things, so instead they try to ensure that as few people touch them as possible. Usually the same people running a state lottery are pushing for those “Game responsibly” ads, and discouraging media coverage of casinos.

But, of course, you could still do better. A lottery that donates the proceeds to charity would be an unalloyed good.


> and the WhatsApp founders have more money they can use to influence the world in good ways

Yes, let's hope they start a privacy-centric messenger to fix this mess! I kid, but money is worthless, it's the things it can get that matter - what thing could they get that would better help privacy than being in charge of the top messenger?


> Now Facebook have less money that they can use to influence the world in stupid/evil ways, and the WhatsApp founders have more money they can use to influence the world in good ways.

Correct.

> since Facebook now owns the service of WhatsApp, they have the adopted duty of popularizing it—a service that inherently resists the kind of centralized analytical approaches Facebook uses to make money

There's nothing inherently decentralized about WhatsApp.

> that nobody would accept if it was turned into not-that, because that’s its whole thing.

Sadly, that's what happened with WhatsApp. It was sold as a privacy-friendly alternative.

After it became part of Facebooks metadata harvesting engine it turned out the majority cared less about privacy and more about the fact that it was a really good messenger (it was/is).


Not inherently decentralized, no. But it’s “inherently” E2E-encrypted, in the sense that that’s why people (or, a large segment of people) use the app. If it doesn’t do that, people will stop using it.

Maybe “inherently” is the wrong word. Is “Diet Coke” inherently a diet drink? That’s the idea I’m trying to get at here: that people wouldn’t buy a “Diet Coke” that isn’t made with a sugar substitute, because then it wouldn’t be “Diet” any more, and that’s why people were drinking it in the first place.


> Not inherently decentralized, no. But it’s “inherently” E2E-encrypted, in the sense that that’s why people (or, a large segment of people) use the app. If it doesn’t do that, people will stop using it.

People used and loved WhatsApp long before it was e2e encrypted. I know, I was one of them.

In fact, IIRC was pretty bad before they implememted the new e2e encryption.

I used to think people chose them because they promised no ads and no tracking.

I now think most people used it because it was a user friendly messaging solution.


I see nothing hypocritical about good people taking payment from evil people. “Payment” means that the resources of the payer go down, and the resources of the payee go up. Now Facebook have less money that they can use to influence the world in stupid/evil ways, and the WhatsApp founders have more money they can use to influence the world in good ways.

So you really think that Facebook hasn’t made more than the $1 Billion dollars on Instagram thsn ot paid for it?


> a service that inherently resists the kind of centralized analytical approaches Facebook uses to make money

Unless they, you know... change it.


What they do with the money would be interesting. I suspect some of it will go back into things I value in secure crypto and interpersonal communications. Or open source. Even Andreessen did some good with his filthy lucre.

Brian has done that with Signal Foundation:

https://signal.org/blog/signal-foundation/


Hooray! I use signal. So I'm benefiting.

> But at least I would not constantly call out the people I sold it to, as if my words had any meaning at that point.

I can shed some light on this phenomenon. I've been in the situation where we sold half our company to someone who was also active in the same branch as us. When the sale happened we were convinced we were going to do great things together! Take over the world, so to say. As time progressed we (the founders / owners) found out we might have had the same goals but not the same methods. And our methods simply weren't compatible.

In the end it ended with lawyers and we bought back the half of the company we sold.

The above is obviously a very condensed recollection of what happened (ie. There are a whole bunch of nuances omitted).


Me and a friend we didn't have money but we had a great plan for a company, which already after a year was making a profit. But we needed some investor in the beginning and a friend of my friend just made a lot of money buying and selling a flat in Stockholm and he wanted to invest in us. So he got 51% of the shares and we would get money to start.

We two started the company, started making profits after one year and started growing. It was a great time back then, especially as one of the first companies which could make small iPhone apps for other companies. We had so much to do.

But after some time, I think it was about 2 years after we started, the guy who invested the money needed it back, but because we were growing and invested back into the company we ourselves didn't have the money yet to pay him back. This is when he sold his 51% shares to a guy who nobody of us knew.

Which was the beginning of the end of our company, because in direct contrast, suddenly we weren't in the driving seat anymore but that new guy who had completely different ideas what to do with the company. He also screw us up on a personal level and we hated his guts for that, which didn't help or a professional level. And because he already had more than enough money he started using this company as a way to avoid taxes more than to deliver great products to customers.

We still tried hard, but after 2 years my friend left and shortly after that me and the other two devs too, which left him the sales guys and the accountant.


Sounds like all the company had is people and your expertise. Why didn't you quit and create a new company with the same people?

Also, knowing what you know now, would it be better to sell the whole company when your investor wanted an exit? Or what you think you should've done?


Not giving a guy who’s bringing nothing to the table but money 51% of your company sounds like a good idea. Not trying to be mean, but as soon as I read that I was like „Oh boy...“

That is basically what we learned from it. About a year ago me and two other friends wanted to start a new company and we found investors but they wanted to have those 51% so after many negotiations and back and forth the thing they didn't want to give up was the 51% which lead to us not working together with them. It's just not worth to invest all the work into a new company which you don't own to a degree that you can decide what to do.

Good on you for standing up for yourself. I hope everything worked out in the end!

Isn't that what practically all smaller software companies have?

Personal life came in between and people later moved around, etc. now we all have normal regular jobs at bigger companies.

I'd say I learned never give 51% to the person who only invests money but not his life, blood and sweat into it. It's not worth it and it will screw you up.


It mentioned in the article that it wasn't solely his choice to sell. Turning down a $16 billion exit is not something you could easily justify to investors and he probably would have been sued if he had.

Also he probably realised that eventually Facebook would just clone what he’d built and then he would have absolutely no say in how things are done, it’s just to easy too criticise.

Ah. Well that's it, right there.

>> The only thing I know is that I'd probably have done the same, as I reckon most would have.

Nothing wrong with that. But then he shouldn't have written blog posts about how WhatsApp cares about privacy, and that there will never be ads on WhatsApp etc.

The real issue is all the lies. And the whiners are correct in whining because they are not (usually) saying they are somehow better people who would have taken a better decision, they are whining that they once supported this company on the basis of the lies it said, and feel like they have been backstabbed.

There is also another problem - Facebook's scummy behavior seems to actually have no end in sight, with employees now hilariously patting themselves in the back and giving themselves good grades with "Remember, what Facebook is doing has never been done before. There are going to be mistakes." [1]. By that measure, should we start throwing the CEO of big tech companies into prison for "massive and systematic privacy invasion". So what if it hasn't been "done before"? Maybe its a mistake to jail them, but that's just a small price for trying new ideas that haven't been "done before".

I think the whiners are not whining loudly enough.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19321420


Maybe Facebook assured him that they wouldn't destroy its privacy. And maybe he believed them.

Or maybe he realized that the design was fscked. And so figured that he'd take the money, and do it right.

Edit: It seems that he had no choice, as imgabe notes.


> Maybe Facebook assured him that they wouldn't destroy its privacy

It would be odd/irresponsible if they valued "assurances" in any way (that weren't legally binding)


Not millions, BILLIONS. The gulf between the two is wide. If you could count 1 number every second you could count to a million in ~30 days. It would take you 30 years to count to a billion.

You mean billions, but yes I agree

It's a weird choice of voice, I reckon. In German, the English word "Billion" translates to "Milliarde", and the English word "Trillion" translates to "Billione".

So, in my head, millions feels closer to billions than billions does. It's weird.


> I had 50 employees, and I had to think about them and the money they would make from this sale.

You know if you just scale up the numbers above, Mark could justify what he's doing the same way Acton justifies his actions yet somehow Acton thinks there's a difference. You just have to laugh at that.

Sorry, but I think it just sounds unintelligent.


The irony of this being published on The Daily Mail, one of the English language publishing world's absolute shoddiest sensationalist tabloids.

It's not. This is just a reblog without attribution of news that had been circulating for 3 days now. The Stanford event where he said that appears to have occurred on Wednesday.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/whatsapp-brian-...


Daily Mail is a bad newspaper but it's nowhere near being "world's absolute shoddiest sensationalist tabloids". If you don't live in the UK then I think you have no idea how bad many newspapers are in other countries. Specifically the Daily Mail has to abide by the UK press regulation body, which limits its ability to publish fake stories. Try travelling abroad and seeing what some non-UK newspapers are like!

Yes. I doubt they understand the mindset of somebody who strive to write secure communications and then sold out to an avowed 'privacy is dead' company. A mindset I also fail to understand entirely but I suspect differently to the paper.

This is how most people resolve cognitive dissonance. He wants the money and a clear conscience about the decision that brought it. The only way he can have both is if he'd been tricked, so even though that's not what happened that's the narrative he prefers. What he probably doesn't realize yet is that he has just created a new counterpoint to his perception of himself as an honest and ethical person. The cycle will continue until he learns to take responsibility for the moral consequences of his own actions. I wish him the best of luck on that journey.

Should be pretty concerning coming from an insider. Now could we finally campaign for public authorities and eg. German state TV broadcasters (ZDF) to #deletefacebook?

You want public authorities to delete their Facebook accounts?

I installed signal, only three of my contacts use it. One is a journalist, one is an artist/designer who does a lot in the crypto space and the last is a fellow enterprise architect. The first two are also active WhatsApp users.

I’m as concerned about Facebook as everyone else, but you can’t seem to get around the fact that it’s the modern yellow pages. It’s the only platform,l everyone has, and it’s just incredible hard to get around that.


I use signal with far more people. and I continue to suggest my WhatsApp relationships to move over but I also use WhatsApp because of weight of numbers. But for lasting interpersonal comunications I would like to use signal more.

Their model makes it harder to have multiple devices in one account id as "me" and seem to make it hard to recruit non SIM enabled tablets and laptops.


I did the same thing; I had more luck installing Telegram after that. WhatsApp works well (not really; the 'phone always has to be connected' thing is extremely annoying, but as in; everyone has it) still but we definitely need alternatives. I managed to not use Facebook for years now; I have an account but did not login for years. Unfortunately everyone has Messenger and a subset of them has WhatsApp (in my circles) and a very small subset has Telegram; Signal I really hear nothing about but the offering sounds compelling.

In parts of Asia Wechat is mandatory; I know it's not a popular (in the west) opinion, but I find Wechat the most user friendly out of them all; it always works (even on incredibly bad and dropping connections) and it just has everything under one roof. But for obvious reasons it is also the worst offering. Cannot be avoided in China though.


Facebook got around it, when the yellow pages were the yellow pages.

These platforms always seem indomitable, but they are all susceptible to a disruptive technology.

(As a side note, now that you are on Signal, the next person in your circle who signs up will have 4 contacts instead of 3. And then the next one after that will have 5, and so on. I have a lot more contacts on Signal now than I did when I signed up.)


I tried Signal but I was disappointed by its UX.

It is not horrible, but a bit below the other messaging apps I have been using.

Which is an issue : hard to push my non techies relatives to move to something that they will find harder to use.

I have one contact on Signal btw.


The UX problem could be solved if there was enough users to make it worth the trouble.

Personally, I only use Signal regularly, so I've convinced most of my friends to use it too. But only for talking to me I suspect.


Interesting article. But there is no real reason why to leave Facebook. I get the whole privacy thing but that’s nothing new, is it?

The minute you take investors money, whether seed, convertible debt, series A, then you are not the only boss anymore. You KNOW you will not be able to be independant and stick it to the man.

That's a very important decision, very early. And once you make it, you can't change it.

The decision to agree to sell to FB was made when they took their first seed money.



A product that is 'free' for it's users from a company that wants to be extremely profitable seems to be a fundamentally flawed business plan.

I'm sure the hivemind will downvote this to oblivion but when I see this sort of thing, my gut reaction is that the communication is so dramatic and such an attention grab... As an aside, given the actual events that led up to FB getting the negative limelight, it seems like the ire IMO be directed at the transmission of propaganda/lies via ads, not privacy.

Vanity platform users get what they deserve.

The people who take money just to then talk shit about the people whom their got their money from...that’s really the lowest class of human being. I mean would you want to work with such person?

That doesn't make sense to me. You're saying if you sell someone something, you have a lifelong moral obligation to never criticize them?

You must have meant a weaker version of that but just the general form of it doesn't feel right.


But what if he is right?

Then why not return the money or burn it in public protest?

If I would feel like him I would not want that money...I would want to put some weight behind my critism...


I’d think that the person who abuses customer privacy would be much lower class than that. I’d much rather work with someone like the WhatsApp founders than a Zuckerberg.



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