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WhatsApp cofounder: Facebook won’t turn us into Soviet-style spy tool

Published Mar 18th, 2014 12:30AM EDT
WhatsApp Facebook Merger Data Privacy

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We’re starting to get the feeling that WhatsApp really is getting some serious blowback from its user base after getting acquired by Facebook because its cofounder has come out with a lengthy statement once again reiterating that nothing will change in terms of user privacy once it’s under Facebook’s control.

“Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication,” writes WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum in a company blog post. “For me, this is very personal. I was born in Ukraine, and grew up in the USSR during the 1980s… 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. Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible.”

The match between Facebook and WhatsApp has always been rather awkward simply because WhatsApp has always valued its users’ privacy while Facebook has been generally shameless about using its customers’ data to sell more targeted ads. And you can’t really blame WhatsApp users for being suspicious since Facebook started talking about putting ads in Instagram very shortly after acquiring it back in 2012. Nonetheless, Koum says this time is different and that he wouldn’t have agreed to get bought by Facebook if he’d have to change WhatsApp’s core values.

“We are forming a partnership that would allow us to continue operating independently and autonomously,” Koum writes. “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.”

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.