With Facebook’s massive purchase of WhatsApp, many have had growing concerns over privacy. WhatsApp reportedly lost a minority of their membership due to this fear, leading WhatsApp founder Jan Koum to take to the company blog. In a post titled “Setting the record straight”, Koum tries to do just that.
Koum begins setting the record straight by saying “there has also been a lot of inaccurate and careless information circulating about what our future partnership would mean for WhatsApp users’ data and privacy.” He goes on to discuss his upbringing in Ukraine during the cold war and communism. In a totalitarianism regime, Koum felt as though privacy — especially as it relates to communication — was important, and routinely compromised. It prompted his family to move to the United States when he was a teenager, he says.
The CEO also reminds us that WhatsApp has none of our personal information, like birthdate or email address. “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA” he says, adding “we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible”. Before adding that the partnership will not compromise their focus or integrity, Koum had the following to add:
If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it. Instead, we are forming a partnership that would allow us to continue operating independently and autonomously. 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.
What Koum seemingly fails to grasp is that it’s not him -- or even WhatsApp -- we take umbrage with. It’s Facebook. Time and again, our personal info has been compromised and violated by the social media giant, often en masse. By aligning themselves with Facebook, we naturally take interest in our security when using WhatsApp. Even those security concerns that did exist prior to Facebook's purchase of the platform didn't come to light until after the transaction. Koum should consider why that is rather than promise not to ask what our names are.
We can respect that WhatsApp will remain autonomous while being under the auspice of Facebook, but they are tucked neatly under Facebook’s wing — and there has to be a reason Zuckerberg spent $19 million (more than the NASA budget for 2014) for a messaging service. Rather than tell us what WhatsApp won’t be doing, we’d love to hear what Facebook will be doing with WhatsApp.