Don't weep for the founders who took Zuckerberg's money

The creators of WhatsApp and Instagram are held up as heroes once they leave the Facebook fold. Heroes? Or calculators?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

They tried. They really tried.

They really thought they could keep their apps pristine.

Because these were the heroes of the tech world, the ones who were crazy enough to believe they could take Mark Zuckerberg's money and keep their creations exactly as they were. Or make them even better.

As if the chances of that happening weren't somewhere between zero and nought.

This week, we're supposed to admire Instagram's Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

Also: Instagram co-founders resign

They quit without telling their employees first, and penned a letter that was a masterclass in Californian passive aggression.

Sample: "We're planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again."

Because they truly, truly thought that taking Facebook's money wouldn't involve a certain course correction. Or, rather, a coarse correction.

They really never imagined that being owned by Facebook might mean not being able to remain pure and creative about their mission.

Facebook's heart has always been in scale and profit. It's always been in being as open and connected to vast power. And power needs money.

Did Systrom and Krieger really think that Zuckerberg's warm embrace would involve him actually keeping his hands off their product?

Didn't they notice that he had one arm around their ribs, while the other discreetly searched their pockets?

Today, though, I'm also supposed to look up to WhatsApp founder Brian Acton.

Also: Amid privacy controversies, WhatsApp founder departs

According to Forbes, he's also a hero because he left Facebook and $860 million on the proverbial boardroom table.

Why, he even encouraged people to delete their Facebook accounts with the creative hashtag #DeleteFacebook.

Here were the founders of a messaging app whose greatest strength was its encryption. There was an advertising company masquerading as a social medium and monetizing everything on its site and in its sight.

Never did the founders of the messaging app conceive that the advertising company might want to, well, expand its activities to WhatsApp?

Also: WhatsApp co-founder, who sold to Facebook, says time to delete CNET

Isn't it slightly more likely that the founders of both heroic apps, on hearing the offer Zuckerberg was making them, whispered to each other: "Look, let's take this insanely unimaginable pile of lucre sitting in front of us. And if it doesn't work out in a couple years, hey, we can always quit."

In the case of Acton and his co-founder Jan Koum, they knew they had a slight problem. WhatsApp didn't actually make money. Did they really imagine that accepting Zuckerberg's billions would involve no commercial compromises?

They and Instagram's founders may all go on to create more apps that make hearts skip beats and time disappear down an infernal dark hole.

But let's not imagine that the Systroms and Actons are heroes of the modern world.

Of Acton's decision to leave, Forbes gushes: "It was perhaps the most expensive moral stand in history."

I fear many would adore making an expensive moral stand when they already have $3.6 billion in their pockets.

Also: Instagram co-founders leaving company, reportedly amid clashes with Facebook CNET

At least Acton seems aware of the precise morality of his stand.

He told Forbes: "At the end of the day, I sold my company. I sold my users' privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day."

And, partly thanks to his choice and compromise, we live with Facebook following us around 24 hours a day.

Social media cannot be trusted without these features

Previous and related coverage:

Twitter brings back chronological timelines

Some Twitter users have complained about seeing "the best" tweets in a Facebook-style timeline and want to return to the old days when they were in chronological order. Twitter now offers that option, and plans to make it easier to switch between the two views..

How to remove bots and trolls and clean up your Twitter feed in seconds

Some simple changes to your Twitter account settings instantly removes most of the bots and trolls and anything else you don't want from your feed, which results in a much more pleasant experience.

Facebook's latest headache: How to spot "deep fake" videos

Facebook is facing an uphill battle automating the detection of misinformation in photos and videos.

How to protect yourself on Facebook

If you depend upon Facebook for your business but want more control over your data, what should you do? Installing the official Mozilla Facebook Container extension might be your best option.

Related stories:

Editorial standards