Advertising Week

Now Facebook's Everson tells WhatsApp founders what's up

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Lara O'Reilly of The Wall Street Journal interviews Carolyn Everson at Advertising Week in New York.
Lara O'Reilly of The Wall Street Journal interviews Carolyn Everson at Advertising Week in New York. Credit: Advertising Week

Carolyn Everson doesn't seem impressed with privacy martyrs Jan Koum and Brian Acton, the WhatsApp co-founders who sold their creation to Facebook in 2014 but have lately become highly critical of their benefactor.

"Brian and Jan sold the company for a lot of money, $19 billion," Everson said during an Advertising Week talk on Monday. "They both did very well," she said. "I would love to hear them talk more about their philanthropy."

Everson was responding to a recent Forbes article in which Acton lamented selling out WhatsApp's users for Facebook riches. WhatsApp, which now has 1.5 billion monthly users, was built as a free service. Its founders have always hated advertising, and they claim Facebook promised not to move too quickly to squeeze revenue from their messaging users.

Everson seemed to suggest that the WhatsApp founders should concern themselves less with how Facebook makes its money and more on what they can do with their newfound riches. Both Koum and Acton do appear to have some philanthropic endeavors, with both funding charitable foundations.

Koum and Acton did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

"I would also like them to recognize that advertising growing businesses is not at odds with people," Everson added. "We all shop every day for needs that we have, and there are small business owners, particularity in emerging markets, their entire livelihood depends … on whether or not they have a business. I think that's a good thing for society and I think we have been very cautious and slow-moving on WhatsApp."

In recent years, Advertising Week has become a place for Facebook to address corporate crises. In 2016, the company was dealing with a faulty-metrics fiasco. Last year, Facebook was contending with fallout from the 2016 election.

Then, like clockwork, Facebook was hit by a major breach heading into this year's event: Last Friday, Facebook disclosed that at least 50 million accounts were compromised by a sophisticated hacker who has yet to be identified. The extent of the hack is still not fully known.

On Monday, Everson discussed the tumltuous past few years, a period that has helped open the company to criticism from people, including the WhatsApp founders, who are concerned about how Facebook collects data and protects privacy.

"I have seen us go through many transitions and the one that everybody talks about is when we had to become a mobile company, that was a major existential threat," Everson said. "This is a more important cultural shift at Facebook the past couple of years."

Everson said she was in contact with advertisers all weekend to discuss the latest hack and help them figure out whether they needed to do anything differently. Facebook has tips for marketers to secure their business accounts, like reviewing all the administrators with access to the accounts. Everson also assured advertisers that no credit card information was susceptible to being stolen.

"This was an attack. It was a sophisticated attack with a very, very obscure edge case," Everson says, meaning that the loophole that hackers exploited was hard to find. "At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to the people and the marketers that utilize our platform."

Everson also addressed Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who announced last week that they would leave the company. Facebook bought their photo-sharing app in 2012 to help answer Facebook's lack of mobile strategy.

Systrom and Krieger are leaving abruptly, and there have been signs that the co-founders were also not happy with the direction Facebook taking their company. But Everson denied there was any bad blood with this split. "This is a very friendly and cordial departure," she said.

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