Facebook, a website where people examine pictures of each other’s faces and argue about Obamacare, has announced its $16 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, a program that allows you to send messages using your telephone. Mark Zuckerberg announced the purchase in a Facebook WWW weblog post, noting that more than 450 million people use WhatsApp as an alternative to standard text messages, with 1 million more users purportedly signing up every day. Those are the numbers that likely made WhatsApp an irresistible acquisition target, as the four-year-old company was threatening Facebook’s dominance of social media—a transgression so intolerable that Zuckerberg was willing to spend the annual GDP of Papua New Guinea to stop it.
This is an odd marriage, though, as WhatsApp has always tacitly cast itself as the anti-Facebook. The app is simple: It replaces your cellular carrier’s usurious text messaging with a cheaper ($1 a year after your first, free year) and more full-bodied message service that has an adorable name. The company’s co-founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, have insisted on keeping WhatsApp simple and respecting users’ privacy, to the extent that they adopted the mantra “No ads! No games! No gimmicks!” Since that sentiment conflicts somewhat with Facebook’s mantra—“Fuck ’em”—this mammoth purchase could be viewed as the end of WhatsApp as we know it. But Zuckerberg insists that WhatsApp will “continue to operate independently within Facebook.” That’s pretty much the same thing he said when Facebook bought Instagram, and Instagram has indeed been left to its own devices, so WhatsApp users don’t necessarily have reason to fear this deal. Still, if you want to delete WhatsApp from your phone in a fit of righteous rage, we’re not going to stop you. In the end, that’s what apps are there for.