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WhatsApp co-founder reveals clashes with Mark Zuckerberg: 'I sold my users' privacy... I live with that every day'

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 27/09/2018 James Cook

Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp © Reuters Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp One of the co-founders of messaging service WhatsApp has claimed that he sold his users’ privacy to Facebook and expressed his frustration over the technology giant’s ongoing efforts to squeeze more money out of the app.

Brian Acton, who co-founded the business with Jan Koum in 2009, has spoken for the first time about his unease with Facebook’s intentions for WhatsApp following its sale for $16bn (£12bn) in 2014.

“At the end of the day, I sold my company,” Mr Acton told Forbes magazine. “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

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But a scathing blog post by a senior Facebook employee disputed Mr Acton's version of events, calling his actions “a whole new standard of low-class”.

Mr Acton announced his resignation from Facebook last September but hadn’t previously spoken about the reasons for his departure.

Mark Zuckerberg © Getty Mark Zuckerberg

Until the new Forbes magazine interview, Mr Acton’s only comment on his exit was a tweet sent in March advising followers to delete their Facebook accounts.

However, Mr Acton now says that he chose to leave Facebook due to increasing pressure to aggressively make more money from users of the service.

Mr Acton recalled meetings with senior Facebook managers including Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive, and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg where WhatsApp was encouraged to serve advertisements to users and to release business tools for the service.

“It was like, okay, well, you want to do these things I don’t want to do. It’s better if I get out of your way. And I did,” Mr Acton told Forbes magazine.

Whatsapp logo © Getty Whatsapp logo

Mr Acton resigned from Facebook, he said, because of the company’s increasing interference in WhatsApp. He had expected to receive a full complement of Facebook stock because of an agreement with the company which would have seen him granted shares early if Facebook implemented monetisation too aggressively.

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.David Marcus

Mr Zuckerberg disagreed with Mr Acton’s claim, and the Facebook shares weren’t provided to Mr Acton during his departure. Mr Acton has not chosen to launch legal action over the dispute, instead telling Forbes magazine “at the end of the day, I sold my company. I am a sellout. I acknowledge that.”

Hours after the Forbes interview was published online, David Marcus, Facebook's vice president of messaging products, claimed this story “differed greatly from reality”.

In an unusual intervention which he claimed nobody at Facebook had asked him to make, Mr Marcus said Mr Action had been repeatedly protected and indulged by Mark Zuckerberg but had deliberately dragged his feet when implementing new projects.

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“Mark personally shields founders from what typically frustrates them in larger companies, giving them unprecedented autonomy,” Mr Marcus wrote.

“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.

“As far as I’m concerned, and as a former lifelong entrepreneur and founder, there’s no other large company I’d work at, and no other leader I’d work for.”

He said Whatsapp had been allowed privileges which irritated other Facebook employees, such as larger desks, exclusive conference rooms and a policy of silence in communal work spaces.

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WhatsApp’s other co-founder, Mr Koum, announced in April that he would leave Facebook, amid reports of similar clashes with Facebook management.

In a statement at the time, Mr Koum said that he would be "taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee".

The departure of both of WhatsApp’s co-founders from Facebook was followed recently by the announcement that both co-founders of photo-sharing app Instagram would also leave the business.

Facebook purchased Instagram for $1bn in 2012, and the company’s two founders ran the business inside Facebook for years. However, earlier this week founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger announced that they would both leave Facebook.

Mr Systrom said in a statement that he wanted to launch a new project. “We’re planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do,” he said.

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