Facebook Breach

Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel writing for the The New York Times about a Facebook security breach that exposed the personal information of nearly 50 million users:

“The breach, which was discovered this week, was the largest in the company’s 14 years history.”

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, that exposed the data of 87 million of Facebook’s users, from earlier this year, was not a breach. This is.

The article ends with:

“Users who posted breaking stories about the breach from The Guardian, The Associated Press and other outlets were prompted with a notice that their posts had been taken down. So many people were posting stories, they looked like suspicious activity to the systems that Facebook uses to block abuse of its network.

‘We removed the post because it looked like spam to us'”

Think about this for a moment: Facebook removed legitimate news posts from legitimate news outlets about the largest breach in its history on its own platform.

WhatsApp Founder Speaks

Parmy Olson, in an interview for Forbes, quoting Brian Acton, one of the founders of WhatsApp:

“They [Facebook] are businesspeople, they are good businesspeople. They just represent a set of business practices, principles and ethics, and policies that I don’t necessarily agree with.”

What strikes me about the quote above is that, with the exception of people – practices, principles, ethics and policies are the building blocks of a company. At the time the deal was announced, it was clear that Facebook would (eventually) pressure the WhatsApp founders on monetisation and privacy topics. It would have been incredibly naive of Acton (and founder Jan Koum) to think otherwise.

The article does not get into the reasons why Koum and Acton accepted the offer. If you discount the practices, principles, ethics and policies which drove them out. What are you left with apart from money and growth avenues?

The article says only that Zuckerberg made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

And who amongst us would refuse $22 billion?

I am sure everyone working at WhatsApp at the time benefited beyond any reasonable expectation.

While it is interesting to read Acton’s side of the story, he does not paint the full picture. I find it hard to sympathise with him. If his ethics and motivations were so strong, surely he and Koum could have remained true to their principles while building a profitable business themselves?

Failing that, we already know Google was interested in an acquisition. Facebook was not the only deal in town. Granted, it is doubtful a Google deal would have turned out any differently. But if Google and Facebook were interested, it is likely there were other acquirers (no doubt with less billions). Maybe WhatsApp could have found a buyer more suited to both their profit and ethical motives?

It is all speculation though.

In the end, this is a question that many successful founders will need to answer for themselves: sell or build?

Whichever you do, own it.

Because that #deletefacebook tweet was weak.

Instagram Founders Leave

The news, reported by Mike Isaac at The New York Times, that Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are leaving Instagram was inevitable.

The same can be said of the departure earlier this year of Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, from Facebook. Neither Instagram, nor WhatsApp, both built through the development of thoughtful and deliberate products as they were, had meaningfully embarked on enabling an effective, large scale business model at the time of purchase.

Yes, you paid a dollar a year for WhatsApp, but was that going to keep the wheels of growth turning as fast as they needed to?

Ben Thompson highlights in his excellent article, Instagram’s CEO:

“Technically speaking, Instagram was a company. In practice, though, Instagram was a product, and its business model was venture capital funding. “

As Ben points out, moving to Facebook allowed Systrom and Krieger to focus on the product and not on the building of the large scale business Instagram was going to need to become.

The WhatsApp and Instagram stories would likely have been more akin to Twitter or Snapchat’s had they refused Zuckerberg’s offers. Despite being engaging products, both Twitter and more recently Snapchat, have faced significant struggles in converting an excellent product into an excellent business. Much of the glamour has been stripped from the Twitter and Snapchat stories in recent years. Much as the glamour has been stripped from Facebook itself. The benefit afforded to Instagram and WhatsApp to remain true to the product and vision was paid for by Facebook’s success as a business. Instagram and WhatsApp did not have to deal with paying for all that growth. In essence, they could remain product darlings. To steal a phrase from from John Gruber – it is the heaviness of Facebook, that allowed Instagram (and WhatsApp) to remain light.

The minute that acquisition cheque is signed and deposited, the keys to the car are handed over. You still get to drive it on a daily basis, and have the unique responsibility of making sure it runs smooth and fast. In short, you get to enjoy the ride, without having to pay for the gas.

Reasons for the departure of Systrom and Krieger will likely emerge over the next few days and weeks. The departure was inevitable because when things get sticky, you don’t have much say if you object to where the money comes from or the manner in which it got there.

 

The Frightful Five

Farhad Manjoo has an interesting piece at The New York Times considering which of the top 5 technology companies and their services one might drop?

I voted as follows:

  1. Amazon
  2.  Facebook
  3. Google
  4. Microsoft
  5. Apple

Amazon

I debated which one would go first between Amazon and Facebook, the fact is, Amazon barely has a presence in my home country. Strange as it might seem, I have not bought much through Amazon over the years (I still shop the traditional way). I am a huge Audible fan and listen to it most days. As a movie buff, I am also regularly browsing IMDB. The fact that I pay for Audible gave me pause here, as it means enough to me that I am willing to pay for it. I do not pay directly for any of Facebook’s offerings. Regardless, Amazon goes first.

Facebook

Facebook is next. I do not use Facebook or Messenger much having turned off all their notifications and banished the apps to a folder on the second-screen of my iPhone. Out of sight, out of mind. I use Instagram fairly regularly and enjoy it, however, I would not miss it that much if it were gone. (My girlfriend on the other hand practically lives in it. While I do not use it nearly as much, Instagram has a notable presence in my life.) The other notable app in Facebook’s collection is WhatsApp. I (and most people I know) use it daily. Considering most of the people I know are split fairly evenly between using iPhones and Android phones, Messages is not a true replacement. Where I am from, WhatsApp is the app everyone uses to communicate. My family uses it, my friends use it and colleagues from work use it. Coming back to the tussle with Audible – while I do not pay for WhatsApp, it certainly saves money on SMS fees!

Google

Originally I had Google pegged at 4th. However, one lens from which I need to view this question is to consider the role work plays in my choice. The applications we use at work are dominated by Microsoft. All communications are done through Outlook or Skype. Pretty much everything is some combination of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project and Visio. From a development perspective, I would not shed a single tear for Microsoft if it did not play a role in my day to day. I far prefer MacOS for development, but, I earn a living on Microsoft. Despite my preference for Google, Google leaves the building first.

On that note, it is worth elaborating on which Google apps I find most useful. Google Maps is the first. Without a doubt my go to app for travelling. Myself and my girlfriend use it endlessly while travelling and in recent time I have started using the Google Trips app when going to new, unknown cities. Google Maps offline features are a fantastic way to save on data fees. I have used Apple Maps on the odd occasion, but none the less it is the odd occasion. When I have used it, it has not proved to be much help. It may very well be improving in many ways, but in my experience it is still lacking. I am however, willing to try. (On the travel note – Google Flights has also proved to be useful entry point to searching for flights and comparing prices in recent time)

YouTube is great! I like YouTube and I think it occupies similar territory to what Facebook videos do for most people. I use it to fill small spaces in between other things. It almost goes without saying that I use GMail on a daily basis. The thing is, I am pretty ambivalent about email. It is no doubt essential, however, if I had to jettison the service, so be it. Lastly, Chrome. I use it every day and prefer it to Safari because of one thing. Chrome Developer Tools! As a web developer, I spend pretty much all day in Chrome DevTools. On Windows, Chrome is the best browser. I used to be a great supporter of Firefox, but in recent years, Firefox has proven to be average. While it certainly better than IE and Firefox is improving. Chrome is still my bread and butter. (That being said, I refer to the Mozilla Developer Network very often in my daily routine.)

Microsoft

As mentioned above, Microsoft’s place in my hierarchy is solely due to work. Google is the true owner of fourth place. Skype used to play a large role in my personal life in that I used it to keep in touch with many people. My usage has been reduced to nothing over the years except. I far prefer FaceTime these days. Though I use Skype daily, what I am using is Skype for Business, which used to be Lync. I think I used Bing once. By mistake. Don’t even get me started on Internet Explorer. At this point, while I hear good things about Windows 10 and Edge, we have not upgraded to them at work yet.

Apple

I am writing this on a Macbook. I use almost every single application above (with the notable exception of all Microsoft’s apps) on my iPhone. Almost everything I watch on a TV screen is through an Apple TV. I listen to Apple Music. Anything I can’t find on Netflix I rent through iTunes. Having used Apple software and hardware, I have little desire to ever go back to Windows for personal use.

The slightly less frightful, but soon to be Threatening Three

Netflix – plays a larger role in my life than Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or iTunes.

Uber – As mentioned in a previous post, Uber’s service is fantastic. Though I have serious misgivings about the company itself. With a lack of competitive options in my home country. I don’t see it going anywhere. That is to say if Uber does not self-destruct.

Airbnb – Travel is a large part of my life, and Airbnb plays a vital role in it. I have stayed in Airbnb apartments around the world, and far prefer them to hotels or other, look-a-like services.