As Facebook faces fallout from a major scandal involving the use of its data by Cambridge Analytica, a British firm that profiled and targeted voters for the Trump campaign, public figures in the tech industry are speaking out against the social network. Chief among them is one of the biggest beneficiary’s of Facebook’s success.
Brian Acton, one of the co-founders of WhatsApp, jumped on the trending #deleteFacebook Twitter hashtag on Tuesday evening (March 20) with a short tweet.
Acton, along with co-founder Jan Koum, sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion. The deal got Acton rich—according to Forbes, he’s worth $5.5 billion as of March 2018. Acton did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Twitter.
This year, Acton helped fund the Signal Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit affiliated with Signal, the encrypted messaging app favored by privacy advocates like Edward Snowden. In February, upon announcing the foundation’s launch, he wrote on Signal’s blog:
As more and more of our lives happen online, data protection and privacy are critical. This isn’t just important for select people in select countries. It’s important for people from all walks of life in every part of the world. Everyone deserves to be protected.
Acton is one of several people once affiliated with Facebook to take a stand against the social network in public. Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor and former mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, recently wrote an op-ed calling for the social network’s founder, along with other social media chiefs, to be subpoenaed by Congress. Sandy Parakilas, a former operations manager at Facebook, wrote in the Washington Post that during his time at the company in 2011 and 2012, senior executives did little to address his calls for better protection of user data. In November, Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, spoke dourly about the social network’s effects on society.
Koum, Acton’s co-founder, is still on—and at—Facebook. After the acquisition, he remained WhatsApp’s CEO. Over the past year, his intermittent posts have mostly related to expressing support for Israel, or for Donald Trump. Koum did not respond immediately to Facebook messages asking about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
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The #deleteFacebook twitter hashtag has trended on Twitter following detailed reports in the New York Times (paywall) and the Observer about how Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm co-founded by Steve Bannon, obtained data from 50 million Facebook profiles by working with a researcher who released a personality quiz app to 270,000 participants on Facebook. The company used this data to develop a social media strategy to help Donald Trump’s campaign for president.
Since the reports, Facebook has lost $50 billion in market value, regulators in both the US and the UK are examining Facebook’s actions, and Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO. Facebook says it has hired a third-party company to conduct a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytics use of its data.