WhatsApp boss on Facebook privacy fears: 'Our principles will not change'

Messaging app WhatsApp is being acquired by Facebook for up to $19bn, but the company’s chief executive has hit out at speculation that its approach to user privacy will change as a result.

Jan Koum published a blog post criticising the “inaccurate and careless information circulating about what our future partnership would mean for WhatsApp users’ data and privacy”, and claiming that the company will stick to the principles that have helped it attract 465m users to its app.

“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address,” wrote Koum.

“We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that.”

For its part, Facebook has been singing from the same hymn sheet ever since the deal was announced. “It would be pretty stupid for us to interfere in a big way,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts after the acquisition was announced in February.

Koum’s latest blog post reads like an attempt to lay out publicly the conditions that he set down in private before agreeing to the acquisition.

“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,” he wrote.

“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.”

This being Facebook, there is likely to be no shortage of critics watching closely to see if the social network sticks to this strategy in the coming months and years, particularly if WhatsApp’s growth starts to stall, or if Koum and co-founder Brian Acton leave the company at a future date, as acquired founders often do.

That said, Facebook currently has clear motivation not to interfere with WhatsApp, given its rapid growth to this point, and the risk that with a number of rival messaging apps jostling for attention, any overreach on privacy could send users fleeing to the competition.

WhatsApp: Could even Facebook become a convert to privacy?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 18th March 2014 08.47 Europe/London

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