That wouldn’t be so odd if he weren’t one of two people who sold WhatsApp to Facebook for more than $19 billion four years earlier.
It is time. #deletefacebook
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) March 20, 2018
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 23, 2018
Acton lost as much as $850 million for leaving Facebook six months before that tweet, in September 2017, because the final tranche of his stock option grants hadn’t vested yet. Since then, he has been silent about his departure, but has now opened up in an interview with Forbes.
A lot of what the interview reveals is hardly surprising. Acton left Facebook as the social media company was insistent on monetizing WhatsApp through ads and by selling businesses tools to engage with users — and eventually track them, too. Facebook was also reluctant to accept end-to-end encryption, a feature that Acton thought was crucial for WhatsApp for protecting users’ privacy.
Despite his call for people to abandon Facebook, though, Acton is quite reserved in his assessment of the social media giant.
“They are businesspeople; they are good businesspeople. They just represent a set of business practices, principles and ethics, and policies that I don’t necessarily agree with,” he told Forbes.
The reasons why he and co-founder Jan Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 aren’t very hard to guess, either — Zuckerberg simply threw a ton of money at them.
“He (…) made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” Acton said.
In the interview, Acton is frequently critical of its own actions, calling himself a “sellout,” despite the fact that merely waiting to resign a few months later would’ve netted him a lot more money.
“I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day,” he said.
The most interesting bits of the interview are the some of the details of Acton’s experience when he was part of Facebook. Despite the fact that Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp is one of the biggest tech deals of all time, Acton says he didn’t talk to Zuckerberg that much. They had a dozen or so meetings over the years, and Facebook’s CEO treated WhatsApp as just another product group within the company. Acton’s last meeting with Zuckerberg is a strikingly cold moment, even for the typically detached Facebook CEO, who told Acton that that was probably the last time he’ll ever talk to him.
The interview is in contrast to Acton’s — now somewhat naive — views in June 2014, shortly after the WhatsApp acquisition.
“We don’t necessarily look at it from the perspective that we’re going to get swallowed by the Borg,” he said at the time.
Post-Facebook, Acton invested $50 million in the security-oriented app Signal — somewhat of a WhatsApp competitor. He also put $1 billion towards philanthropy, supporting early childhood development as well as healthcare in impoverished areas in U.S.
Instagram’s two founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, announced their exit from the photo-sharing app they sold to Facebook for $1bn six years ago.