Facebook has yet to right the ship after its data misuse scandal—and former partners are speaking out against the company.
Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, the popular messaging app that Facebook acquired for $16 billion, has been highly critical of Facebook and its leadership. His latest outcry was to call himself a “sellout” for dealing his creation to Mark Zuckerberg.
Acton spoke with a reporter at Forbes about his disagreements with Zuckerberg and Facebook.
He clearly doesn’t relish the spotlight this story will bring and is quick to underscore that Facebook “isn’t the bad guy.” (“I think of them as just very good businesspeople.”) But he paid dearly for the right to speak his mind. “As part of a proposed settlement at the end, [Facebook management] tried to put a nondisclosure agreement in place,” Acton says. “That was part of the reason that I got sort of cold feet in terms of trying to settle with these guys.”
The interview got plenty of coverage from media outlets.
One of the things you’re left with after reading through Acton’s Forbes interview that’s been rocketing around the web today is that he seems to have at least an element of regret, such as when he laments the fact that “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit.”
Sure, it’s easy to sarcastically play a sad violin for a guy worth $3.6 billion who’s unhappy with how he made his money, but the interesting thing about this interview is that it’s come out today — just a couple of days after Instagram’s co-founders surprisingly left Facebook all of a sudden, likewise (or so say the chattering classes) over a perceived irreparable rift with management.
The story prompted one of Facebook’s executives, David Marcus, to respond. Marcus’ note carries the disclaimer that no one at the company asked him to post his views.
He wrote, in part:
Today Forbes published an interview of Brian Acton that contained statements, and recollection of events that differ greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand. As a result, I felt compelled to write about the actual facts.
First — there are few companies out there that empower and retain founders and their teams for as long as Facebook does. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger thrived at Facebook for six years, Jan Koum and Brian Acton over four and three years, respectively.
[…] Second — on encryption. The global roll-out of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition, and with Mark’s full support. Yes, Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption, but from that point on, it was never questioned. […]
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.
His post got a positive reaction from some readers:
Others seemed less convinced:
The back-and-forth comes at a difficult time for Facebook.
Earlier this week, Instagram's co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced they are leaving Facebook. While they didn't give a reason for their departure, The Wall Street Journal reported that it came amid clashes with Zuckerberg.
Facebook has been mired in controversy since the 2016 elections. U.S. intelligence agencies have said that Russian actors used Facebook and Instagram to wage a campaign of disinformation in the election. In February, the Department of Justice issued indictments against 13 Russian nationals of breaking U.S. laws to interfere in the 2016 election.
On Twitter, Marcus’ statement got mixed reactions:
Oh Dave, just because Brian was hypocritical does not mean this reads any better. https://t.co/9s0hDAgqYo— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) September 27, 2018
Is Marcus suggesting that Facebook can do anything it wants regarding privacy because the “bad is far outweighed by the good”? A Facebook employee? After Zuckerberg testifying on congress? Is that his team “getting back to them?”— Juan José Luis Garcí (@juanjoseluisgar) September 27, 2018
Actually, Facebook's David Marcus is the one who comes out looking low-class and douchey here, not WhatsApp's Brian Acton.— Laine (@GylCad) September 27, 2018
The post from David Marcus—a Facebook exec responding to criticism from WhatsApp's creator—reveals that Facebook leadership still thinks that, as long as the company keeps growing, any negative consequences are justified (I wrote at length on this: https://t.co/LDflw292TI) pic.twitter.com/xHaFQx5M5w— Nikhil Sonnad (@nkl) September 26, 2018
Another problem for Facebook is its growing reputation as a bad place to sell your startup after the departure of Instagram’s and WhatsApp’s founders.
It’s easy to see how that — valid or not — is not the narrative Facebook wants ricocheting around Silicon Valley. It also goes against the consensus view: Facebook’s reputation as an acquirer has been generally great, especially if you’re important enough — as the WhatsApp and Instagram founders were — to command some autonomy.
But it’s also hard to ignore. No one expects founders to stay at their new parent companies forever, and the Instagram and WhatsApp guys stayed longer than most. But it’s also notable that all of them — and the founder of Oculus, the other of Facebook’s big three acquisitions from the past six years—ended up leaving amid some drama.
What do you think, PR Daily readers? Does Marcus’ statement help or hurt Facebook’s cause?
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