Exclusive: Co-founder Brian Acton says WhatsApp identity is lost, its merger with FB Messenger may not succeed
WhatsApp has lost its identity and soul under the watch of Facebook, the co-founder of the chat app told India Today Tech. Co-founder Brian Acton, who left the WhatsApp team at Facebook in 2017, apparently no longer likes the direction WhatsApp has taken under Facebook and laments that the chat app no longer has the same kind of identity that its co-founders strove to maintain all these years, the kind of identity that made it popular.
WhatsApp is the world's most popular chat app right now with over 1.5 billion active users. Most of these users got hooked to WhatsApp because of its simplicity and its focus on providing clean chatting experience. In 2014 Facebook acquired WhatsApp and since then a number of features have been added to the chat app, including features like Status and Stickers that can potentially be used for advertisements.
Since 2014 there have been organisational changes as well that have taken place within the WhatsApp team inside Facebook. Acton believes that these changes have resulted in WhatsApp losing its soul and identity. "I think WhatsApp identity is already lost... (and it is) because WhatsApp founders have left," Acton told the India Today Tech.
Acton left WhatsApp in 2017. A year later, the other co-founder Jan Koum too left WhatsApp and Facebook. The two founders reportedly left because they had disagreement with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Later, Acton regretted selling WhatsApp to Facebook. "At the end of the day, I sold my company. I sold my users' privacy. I made a choice and a compromise. I live with that every day," Acton had earlier told Forbes.
Since then, as Facebook battled scandal over user privacy and the company's perceived focus on advertisement at the cost of safety and security of user data, Acton has twice urged Facebook users to delete the app and their accounts.
Just a few days ago, Acton at Stanford University said that Facebook users should delete their accounts. "We give them the power. That's the bad part. We buy their products. We sign up for these websites. Delete Facebook, right," Acton reportedly said.
A few weeks ago Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, apparently in a bid to steer Facebook clear of all the scandals that surround it, talked of a new direction for Facebook. In this new plan, where the encrypted communication takes the centre stage instead of Facebook Newsfeed, WhatsApp is supposed to play a crucial role in the future of Facebook.
"I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won't stick around forever. This is the future I hope we will help bring about... In a few years, I expect future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network," wrote Zuckerberg.
As part of the plan, Facebook intends to bring all its messaging apps and services, including WhatsApp, on single platform.
Acton, however, believes that the plan may not succeed. "Now Facebook is trying to merge the product experience. It is a hard job and will be difficult to be successful," he tells India Today Tech.
Acton's comments come a few days after we heard of the resignations of Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox and WhatsApp chief Chris Daniels. Daniels got the responsibility last year after Koum left. Cox and Daniels reportedly left because they had disagreements with CEO Zuckerberg about the new direction the company was taking.