In a rare public appearance on Wednesday at Stanford University, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton urged students to delete their accounts from the social network Facebook. This was despite his having sold his own company to Mark Zuckerburg’s social media giant for $19 billion (R275 billion) back in 2014.
Acton left WhatsApp in November 2017, more than three years after its takeover, following tensions surrounding the introduction of ads onto the messaging platform, something he and fellow co-founder Jan Koum vehemently opposed.
While Acton didn’t discuss the specifics behind Zuckerberg’s push to monetise WhatsApp during his talk at Stanford, he spoke critically of business models that incentivised companies to prioritise profits over people’s privacy.
“The capitalistic profit motive, or answering to Wall Street, is what’s driving the expansion of invasion of data privacy and driving the expansion of a lot of negative outcomes that we’re just not happy with,” he said. “I wish there were guardrails there. I wish there were ways to rein it in. I have yet to see that manifest, and that scares me.”
Acton also acknowledged that any attempts made by Facebook to moderate content or monitor invasions of privacy, though well-intentioned, would be futile.
“I think it’s impossible,” he said when asked about moderating content. “To be brutally honest, the curated networks, the open networks, struggle to decide what’s hate speech and what’s not hate speech. … Apple struggles to decide what’s a good app and what’s a bad app. Google struggles with what’s a good website and what’s a bad website. These companies are not equipped to make these decisions.”
The only answer he said, when discussing how to protect our data, is the simple one.
“Delete Facebook, right?” Acton concluded.