Some Facebook employees won’t take criticism lying down.
David Marcus, head of Facebook’s blockchain team, wasn’t thrilled with WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton’s recent interview with Forbes, during which he called into question the social network’s business plans for the popular messaging app.
“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,” Marcus said in a blog post aimed at Acton. “It’s actually a whole new standard of low-class.”
Acton — who, alongside co-founder Jan Koum, sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $19 billion in 2014 — told Forbes he disagreed with how its new overlords want to monetize the app. Acton said he was in favor of a “metered-use model,” where users are charged a “tenth of a penny” after using a certain amount of free messages, but that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg pushed back, saying it won’t scale.
“I was like, ‘No, you don’t mean that it won’t scale. You mean it won’t make as much money as . . . ,’ and she kind of hemmed and hawed a little,” Acton told Forbes. “I think I made my point. . . . 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.”
Marcus said Acton’s framing of the issue didn’t square with his memory, though, and that CEO Mark Zuckerberg “protected” WhatsApp from being over-monetized. “And by the way the paid messaging that WhatsApp is rolling out now sounds pretty similar to metered messaging from my point of view,” Marcus said.
According to Acton, a clause his contract stipulates he would be paid his four years worth of stock immediately if Facebook monetized without his and Koum’s consent, but he decided against lawyering up. “At the end of the day, I sold my company,” said Acton. “I am a sellout. I acknowledge that.”
But most near and dear to Acton and Koum’s hearts, said Acton, is the issue of user privacy. The co-founders were adamant WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, Acton said, despite the potential it could thwart Facebook’s business desires. Acton said he wasn’t in favor of putting ads on the app, and that Zuckerberg would “probe” ways to offer analytical tools to WhatsApp’s business users. Ultimately, Zuckerberg was “supportive” of rolling out end-to-end encryption, Acton recalled, although WhatsApp will introduce ads next year.
In his response, Marcus made it clear Zuckerberg never balked at WhatsApp emphasizing user privacy.
“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,” Marcus said. “I witnessed Mark defending it a number of internal meetings where there was pushback — never for advertising or data collection reasons but for concerns about safety — and even in Board Meetings.”
The tech exec spat comes only two days after Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mark Krieger announced they will leave the company in the coming weeks. Acton left WhatsApp in 2017, and Koum exited earlier this year to, among other things, focus on “collecting rare air-cooled Porsches.”