Facebook saw what can be possibly termed as tumultuous times last week. It started with the proposal put across by Elizabeth Warren to break up tech companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. While Facebook was yet to comment on this foresight, it went down for billions of users worldwide, leading to a massive outrage on Twitter that consequently reignited the ‘Delete Facebook’ campaign. This mishap was immediately followed by the unfortunate terror attack on New Zealand mosque, the course for which was live-streamed by the shooter. The company reeled against the backlash but one significant voice rose amid this chaos.
Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, who left Facebook in 2017 due to misaligned viewpoints over encryption and monetisation of the chat app, sounded off the ‘Delete Facebook’ campaign, this time in his speech at Stanford University. Acton asked the students to get rid of Facebook, which currently owns WhatsApp. While this is not the first time Acton enthusiastically echoed a sentiment many others believe could be a beginning of the downfall of Facebook, he emphasised over how tech companies are failing to deliver when it comes to data privacy, social responsibility, and ethics.
At Stanford University, Acton not only told students to get rid of Facebook, but he also shared that he does not regret selling WhatsApp to Facebook, even though he was initially reluctant. “You go back to this Silicon Valley culture and people say, ‘Well, could you have not sold?’ and the answer is no,” Acton was quoted as saying in a report by BuzzFeed. He said he was thoughtful of the 50 employees back then, as well as the investors and his minority stake that would not have made any difference to the decision.
But his decision to sell the privacy of his app’s (WhatsApp) users for profit is something he says he lives with every day. His concern is essentially about the impending merger of three Facebook platforms – WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook – which CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed earlier this year in a blog post. End-to-end encryption stands on the principle of the inability of any third party or even the owner to intercept the contents being shared on the messaging service. Integrating the apps will be done so with the help of a method that Facebook says will increase encryption on all three of them.
Moreover, the plan to merge the three services comes close on the heels of Facebook’s other plan – monetising WhatsApp. It has been confirmed by no less than four-five company officials that WhatsApp will eventually serve advertisements to its users. Facebook will tweak the WhatsApp Status feature to do so, however, the complete blueprint is unavailable as of now. Instagram and the marquee Facebook app already bear advertisements that users cannot opt out of.
Facebook gives the advertisers the necessary information from users, labelled as ‘targeted advertising’, so that they can push related ads. But here is when the conflict arises – encryption is right opposite to tracking users for their preferences – which drops a question mark on Facebook’s ethics and plans.