Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Development Matt Perault today told Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal that Facebook devotes no resources to identifying promising apps, platforms, and startups it could acquire. Perault’s comments contradict reports and leaked internal documents showing that Facebook used its Onavo VPN app to monitor the popularity of apps and closely track WhatsApp before it was purchased by Facebook in 2014.
During the US House Judiciary Committee Hearing titled “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 2: Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” Perault was asked by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal:
“Does Facebook devote any resources to identifying promising tech startups or innovative non-Facebook platforms and apps?”
“Not to my knowledge. No, Congresswoman.”
Jayapal pressed Perault by asking “None at all?” He responded by saying the company devotes resources to “understanding the competitive landscape in which we operate” but said the answer to her question is still no.
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Jayapal continued to push Perault for a more specific answer by asking:
“So you don’t acquire promising tech startups or innovative non-Facebook owned platforms or apps?”
Perault avoided answering the question directly by saying Facebook acquires companies that enable it to innovate more effectively.
While Jayapal didn’t mention Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, reports have shown that Facebook used data from its Onavo VPN app to monitor the growth rate of WhatsApp before the acquisition took place. Leaked internal documents have since corroborated these reports.
Perault repeatedly telling Jayapal that the company doesn’t devote resources to identifying promising tech startups or innovative non-Facebook platforms and apps is confusing in light of the WhatsApp revelations. WhatsApp was most certainly a promising tech startup and an innovative non-Facebook app before Facebook acquired it and Facebook seemed to be devoting significant resources towards making this determination before the acquisition took place.