The Cost of Facebook’s Political Baggage

When WhatsApp surveyed people in India last year about their perceptions of the firm, it discovered that few knew WhatsApp was owned by Facebook, according to two people briefed on the survey. WhatsApp was happy about that because Facebook’s brand was hurt in India after a 2015 political controversy involving its free-internet efforts.

Facebook has long tried to maintain a distance from businesses such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus—for years, WhatsApp didn’t share data with Facebook, and people use the main Facebook app differently than Instagram. The reasons were varied. People at Oculus, for instance, worried that consumers wouldn’t buy its virtual reality headsets because of concerns of how Facebook could use data collected to target advertising at them, according to former employees.

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“I think these enterprises have grown so large so quickly and we’ve reveled in all the wonders we’ve brought to our individual lives, but, as in everything, there are potential tradeoffs,” he said.

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The increasing political risks aren’t “showing up in the numbers yet, but it’s impossible to ignore.”