WhatsApp Founder Slams Facebook Privacy Concerns

WhatsApp CEO says rumors that Facebook will change the messaging service's privacy policy are "inaccurate and careless."

Kristin Burnham, Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

March 18, 2014

3 Min Read

10 Famous Facebook Flops

10 Famous Facebook Flops

10 Famous Facebook Flops (Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

WhatsApp founder Jan Koum addressed concerns that Facebook will change the messaging app's strict privacy policies following its $19 billion acquisition. In a blog post titled "Setting the Record Straight," Koum dispelled what he described as "inaccurate and careless information" surrounding Facebook's plans.

"If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn't have done it," Koum wrote. "Our fundamental values and beliefs will not change. Our principles will not change. Everything that has made WhatsApp the leader in personal messaging will still be in place. Speculation to the contrary isn't just baseless and unfounded, it's irresponsible. It has the effect of scaring people into thinking we're suddenly collecting all kinds of new data. That's just not true, and it's important to us that you know that."

WhatsApp's strict privacy policy lies in stark contrast to Facebook's practices. WhatsApp states that it does not collect user names, email addresses, or phone numbers, nor does it store messages on its servers unless they go undelivered. Those, too, are deleted after 30 days.

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[Facebook's purchase price isn't the only surprising figure. Read Facebook's WhatsApp Buy: 10 Staggering Stats.]

Earlier this month, privacy advocates filed a complaint with the FTC to block Facebook's acquisition of the messaging service, calling it unfair and deceptive. While both Facebook and WhatsApp have maintained that the app will continue to operate independently, the privacy groups believe Facebook will break that promise.

"Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model," the complaint said. "The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users' understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission."

Koum's dedication to privacy dates back to his childhood in the USSR. In his post, published on Monday, he shared a personal story that detailed why maintaining the integrity of WhatsApp's privacy policies is so important to him:

Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication. For me, this is very personal. I was born in Ukraine, and grew up in the USSR during the 1980s. One of my strongest memories from that time is a phrase I'd frequently hear when my mother was talking on the phone: "This is not a phone conversation; I'll tell you in person." The fact that we couldn't speak freely without the fear that our communications would be monitored by KGB is in part why we moved to the United States when I was a teenager.

Experts agree that WhatsApp's focus on simplicity and privacy contributed to its rapid rise: WhatsApp reached 450 million users faster than any other company, according to Sequoia Capital, an investor in the app. The company has never spent money to market the app, nor has it sold advertising.

WhatsApp users aren't charged text messaging fees. Instead, the app transmits text and photo messages via the user's Internet data plan, even if the messages are sent internationally. The app is free to download and free for the first 12 months. After that, it costs 99 cents annually.

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About the Author(s)

Kristin Burnham

Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior writer. Kristin's writing has earned an ASBPE Gold Award in 2010 for her Facebook coverage and a Min Editorial and Design Award in 2011 for "Single Online Article." She is a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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