Facebook’s 2014-era purchase of WhatsApp has always been a bit awkward. While the acquisition jibed with Facebook’s penchant for snatching up popular third-party apps in order to stay relevant, the company’s reputation as a user-data-powered advertising machine didn’t exactly align with the more privacy-focused intentions of the secure messaging app. Days after Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum issued a blog post stating that nothing would change. Oh, now wrong he was.
At the time WhatsApp was acquired, the app did not even collect its users’ phone numbers, and used dynamic on-device association to specifically avoid collecting customer info. Four years later, WhatsApp is a fully-integrated arm of the Facebook data machine, where accounts associated with phone numbers can be lumped into broader data profiles associated with names, friends, workplaces, and much more.
One of WhatsApp’s two co-founders, Brian Acton, left the company in September, and — following a public plea to #DeleteFacebook — co-founder Jan Koum announced his plans to do the same in April. According to a new investigation by the Wall Street Journal, the events that led to their departure are far more messy and dramatic than previously reported.
Though the crux of the dispute appears to have been Facebook’s insistence on prioritizing monetization over privacy,Wall Street Journal’s report also mentions a number of passive-aggressive slights that are worth reading for the pettiness alone. All of the best ones involve WhatsApp’s offices, which appear to have been caught in a proxy war while the execs battled it out over more important issues:
Some Facebook staffers considered the WhatsApp unit a mystery and sometimes poked fun at it. After WhatsApp employees hung up posters over the walls instructing hallway passersby to “please keep noise to a minimum,” some Facebook employees mocked them with chants of “Welcome to WhatsApp—Shut up!”, according to people familiar with the matter.
Some employees even took issue with WhatsApp’s desks, which were a holdover from the Mountain View location and larger than the standard desks in the Facebook offices. WhatsApp also negotiated for nicer bathrooms, with doors that reach the floor. WhatsApp conference rooms were off-limits to other Facebook employees…
Mr. Koum chafed at the constraints of working at a big company, sometimes quibbling with Mr. Zuckerberg and other executives over small details such as the chairs Facebook wanted WhatsApp to purchase, a person familiar with the matter said.
Office minutiae aside, the core issue between the companies was user privacy, or rather, whether the user’s right to privacy superseded Facebook’s right to make money of their data. And of course, it didn’t, hence the exit of Acton and Koum. Facebook obviously wasn’t going to stop being Facebook just to appease the founders of some subsidiary messaging app.