A certain distaste for Facebook’s chief Mark Zuckerberg underlies much of the recent reaction to the company’s annus horribilis. Just last week, the company announced a data breach affecting 50 million people, right on the heels of Instagram’s prominent founders leaving Facebook. Whether it’s a hack or a corporate battle, Zuckerberg does not get the benefit of the doubt, let alone the awe and reverence afforded to comparable company-creating CEOs like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t mention Zuckerberg’s 14-year-old messages about his first 4,000 users: “they ‘trust me’” as proof of his venality.
In opposition to Zuckerberg, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger and WhatsApp’s Brian Acton and Jan Koum, who left before them, somehow become deeply sympathetic characters in their struggles to protect their beloved products. This is despite all of them having made at least hundreds of millions of dollars selling to and working for Facebook.
In this narrative, Facebook comes across as rapacious, growth-obsessed, greedy. Acton gave Forbes this anecdote about his plan to charge people money instead of showing them ads. Sheryl Sandberg, he says, shot it down, saying that wouldn’t scale.
“I called [Sandberg] out one time,” says Acton, who sensed there might be greed at play. “I was like, ‘No, you don’t mean that it won’t scale. You mean it won’t make as much money as . . . ,’ and she kind of hemmed and hawed a little. And we moved on. I think I made my point. . . . They 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.”