WhatsApp Co-Founder Brian Acton On Importance Of Privacy

By Amit Chowdhry ● November 11, 2019
  • WhatsApp co-founder and Signal Foundation chair Brian Acton recently discussed the importance of privacy at the WIRED 25 conference

WhatsApp co-founder and Signal Foundation chair Brian Acton was on stage at the WIRED 25 conference in San Francisco where he discussed privacy with WIRED editor at large Steven Levy. Acton pointed out that the use of encrypted communications tools is going to increase in the future.

“There’s a global education that’s happening,” said Acton via Wired. “Back in the ‘90s, we all got the same hoax emails, and we all learned to ignore them. Today, privacy is becoming a much more mainstream discussion. People are asking questions about privacy, and they want security and privacy built into the terms of service.”

Acton had left WhatsApp in 2018 and as the chair of the Signal Foundation, he promotes end-to-end messaging encryption. In 2013, Acton started working with Signal co-founder Moxie Marlinspike as they started to integrate end-to-end encryption in WhatsApp.

As WhatsApp had surpassed 400 million users, the messaging service started receiving a lot more attention from law enforcement agencies. The subpoenas for users started pouring in. And Acton feared that WhatsApp would be turned into a government surveillance tool if it did not have end-to-end encryption. Due to disagreements with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Acton left the company in 2014.

“In general we want to be in the business of not knowing the people who are using the product,” Acton added. “The bad guys are always going to be bad guys. But the good guys—lawyers, the press—they need the technology, and they need the education.”

Acton also still stands behind the idea of deleting Facebook — which is a tweet that Acton wrote last year that went viral (above). He said if you want to be on the social network and “want to have ads thrust in front of you, go to town.”

The #DeleteFacebook tweet came at a time when Facebook was being heavily scrutinized by the government for its mishandling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal along with the spreading of misinformation on the platform — which influenced the election leading to President Donald Trump’s victory.

Acton expressed skepticism about Zuckerberg’s commitment to encryption. This is especially due to the pressure that the company is facing from lawmakers. For example, Attorney General William Barr urged Zuckerberg to pause encryption plans due to national security reasons.

“More power to Facebook if they accomplish it,” commented Acton.