Facebook fleeced -- er, lured by WhatsApp's promise of fresh data

Facebook is hoping there's gold in them thar data mines as it hands over $19 billion to the messaging startup

It's been a disturbing morning. There is now a forehead-shaped dent in my kitchen wall, but not from me banging my head against it repeatedly -- it's from Pammy banging my head against it repeatedly.

She's pissed this fine dawn because her maybe-partner (me) who is supposedly an expert in markets technical (yes, I lie) is once again not part of a Silicon Valley dollar orgy that would make Caligula cry -- in this case, the $19 billion check Mark Zuckerberg wrote to Brian Acton and Jan Koum for WhatsApp.

[ Snapchat to Facebook: $3 billion isn't cool. You know what's cool? | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. | Can we talk? Send your tech war story to offtherecord@infoworld.com and get a $50 AmEx gift cheque if InfoWorld publishes it. We're all ears! ]

"A messaging app?" she screamed in my face, morning breath making my eyes tear, while I frantically tried to get a cup of Folgers in her hand. She yanked open the window and pointed an accusing finger downward, a face like Mary I of England with her foot on the head of a Protestant.

"You can throw a dead cat in any direction on that sidewalk down there and hit a guy who wrote a messaging app!" Then she snapped poor Mr. Mittens' neck, heaved the body out the window, and hit a Wickr founder dead in the face. Poor thing didn't get to finish his Fancy Feast.

I suppose I understand the raging. I already missed out on the first dot-com bubble money giveaway contest. More than a decade later, I'm still typing snark into a word processor while venture capitalists and tech tycoons are once again holding in-office foosball tournaments for multi-billion-dollar cashier's checks. All she wants is a little security. Is it too much to ask that her boyfriend bring home a few billion?

Details on the deal that spoiled my morning spewed forth the other night when it was reported that Facebook drunkenly snarfed down WhatsApp for only $16 billion. Come morning, it was $19 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. I guess when you're hammered, high-fiving, and screaming "SUCKERS!!!" it's easy to misread a beer-stained spreadsheet.

NASA? Nada! Brazil? Bah!
It's a freakishly large sum, to be sure. By all reports, it's the biggest tech buyout since Symantec purchased Veritas in 2004. By comparison NASA's recently passed budget is a little over $16 billion, while Brazil is cutting $18.5 billion off its national budget to avoid being downgraded by Standard & Poor's.

Then again, one is only sending people to Mars, while the other is just governing the seventh-largest economy on the planet and a population of 190 million. WhatsApp is delivering on the much more challenging goal of being the umpteenth nonsecure public sexting service that's also collecting the names and phone numbers of Latin American teenagers. No wonder Zuckerberg wants it so badly.

On top of that, poor Acton and Koum are taking all kinds of flak on the InterWebs this morning, which I don't think is fair. They've long had an honest rep, known far and wide as straight shooters everywhere except the urinal. In an interview conducted two months ago, they said they weren't interested in monetizing WhatsApp, but rather building an enduring company in the highly stable and long-lasting mobile app market. Money could come later.

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