Close to one year ago, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton publicly urged users to delete Facebook from their devices. Acton is once again renewing that call, while criticizing companies like Apple for some of their privacy and moderation practices.
As one of the guest speakers for Computer Science 181, an undergraduate class focused on technology companies’ social impact and ethical responsibilities, Acton, a 47-year-old Stanford alum, explained the principles behind founding WhatsApp and his fateful decision to sell it to Facebook in 2014. In doing so, he also criticized the profit models driving today’s tech behemoths, including Facebook and Google, as well as the Silicon Valley ecosystem in which entrepreneurs are pressured to chase venture capital and large exits to satisfy employees and shareholders.
Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $16 billion in 2014, bringing Acton and co-founder Jan Koum onboard at the same time. Acton left the company in 2017, due to conflicts with Facebook’s leadership.
At Computer Science 181, Acton discussed the corporate relationships between tech firms, such as Apple and Facebook, and foreign countries, such as China. “I think that a lot of these corporate decisions are made arbitrarily and capriciously,” Acton said, referring to happenings such as Apple’s agreeing with Chinese government requests to store user data on servers in China.
Acton continued, saying companies like Google, Apple, and Twitter struggle to identify “what’s hate speech and what’s not hate speech.”
“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.”
Acton notes that despite these companies not being “equipped” to make these decision, we, as users give them the power to do so.
“And we give them the power,” he continued. “That’s the bad part. We buy their products. We sign up for these websites. Delete Facebook, right?”