Considering two matters about the high-tech and government sectors in Israel and Ukraine.
Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) has announced that it plans to purchase WhatsApp for about $19 Billion in what is reportedly the largest-ever venture-backed corporate buyout. For the unwashed, WhatsApp is a mobile telecommunications app that lets users chat for free for a year, and then charges $1 for subsequent years. It is the fastest growing online community of users ever, with over 450 Million users as of Feb. 20, 2014, when the buyout was annouced. The stated purpose of the buyout is to let facebook gain a stronger foothold in the field of mobile telecommunications.
Mobile development is huge in Israel and Ukraine, and FB has a significant presence and nearly ubiquitous usage in Israel. In fact, reports from 2011 showed Israel as the most active population using facebook of all the nations on Earth. So as many Ukranian programmers and software firms work with tech companies in Israel, this will obviously have an impact on the mobile developer and Internet software market in these two countries.
The question is not whether there will be an increased demand for people with mobile development skills. The question is how much of an increase will there be in such a demand? And how will that affect the economy of these two aforementioned countries?
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In Ukraine, as in Israel, Facebook and WhatsApp are increasingly seen as threats to security and political stability. Chief among them, social media is viewed as a potentially dangerous leak platform that can reveal too many secrets to masses of people, instantaneously.
Both Facebook and WhatsApp have been used in Israel and Ukraine by groups of otherwise secretive people, from rank and file grunts, all the way up to Air Force pilots and even groups of Generals. On those networks, these people share what they believed was safe to share, only to find out that they had likely given information or at least made it available to malicious recipients, who were gathering that information for enemy forces.
And as has been seen in both countries, Facebook and WhatsApp are increasingly used as mechanisms to organize large grassroots demonstrations, protests and other actions against the political ruling class. Recent events in Kiev have shown just how powerful these technologies can be, given the right organic application in the real world. And just a couple of Summers ago, in Israel, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in public squares to protest the outrages of government and the monopolist industries accused of price fixing and price gouging on everyday expenses including cottage cheese, other basics groceries, and housing costs.
Obviously, as these two major platforms keep growing, their ability to be exploited for public interest groups or other organized initiatives will continue to get larger and more potent.
So now the questions are starting to fall into place. When WhatsApp is officially part of Facebook, and Facebook looks more and more like a major telecom operator, will Facebook eventually be regulated as such? Will a company that provides service to so many people (well over a billion at last count) remain free of a breakup? What international rules or limitations will be imposed upon arguably one of the greatest information sharing tools ever invented? How will security forces, industry and political systems deal with the fact that so much power is now in the hands of the individual? And what checks and balances must be put in place to ensure the continued successful growth of these types of companies, while preserving the right of free speech, promoting innovation, and without doing damage to the tech ecosystem, the economy, security and human rights?
What previously unpublished impact do you believe will transpire as a result of Facebook’s buyout of WhatsApp? And how, if at all, will these economic and cyber-security issues impact your life? Please chime-in in the comments area below.
Full disclosure: In addition to cartooning and trying to wit with pens, Yasha Harari has worked for a number of tech start-ups and large companies in America, Europe and Israel.
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