Mark Zuckerberg at MWC: NSA spying scandal is 'not awesome' but WhatsApp is

The Facebook founder spoke at the Mobile World Congress, signalling the increasing dominance of mobile devices for technology companies

Never let it be said that the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one to overhype a crisis. Asked about the National Security Agency’s spying scandal, which has hit Internet firms with widespread fears among users about being snooped on, he responded: “Well, it’s not awesome.”

Mr Zuckerberg was urging the telecoms industry at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to back his Internet.org initiative for basic online access to all, but he faced a barrage of questions about other issues including the NSA affair.

Despite his concerns, he said the situation was improving, presumably referring to Washington’s partial relaxation on how much internet companies were allowed to tell the public about what information they share with the NSA: “Now I think the US government is getting there,” he said.

Mr Zuckerberg, just days after buying the messaging app WhatsApp for £11bn, dismissed questions about further takeovers, such as another bid for Snapchat, saying: “After you’ve bought a company for $16bn, you’re probably done for a while.”

He warned that efforts to connect the entire world’s population to the web are “going way slower than most people imagine”, as he urged the telecoms industry to back his Internet.org initiative for basic online access for all.

Mr Zuckerberg told the conference that it was crucial to encourage people in emer­ging markets to get web access, citing a Deloitte study that showed productivity can increase by up to 25 per cent.

The Facebook chief executive said this idea of “connecting all of the world” was a reason why he had bonded with Jan Koum, the founder of the messaging app WhatsApp, which Mr Zuckerberg bought last week for $19bn (£11.4bn). He said mobile phone carriers should give cheap or free access to basic Internet services to connect the five billion people who are not yet online.

He admitted that would help Facebook to increase its profits eventually, but he maintained the social media giant would not break even on its investment in Internet.org for some time.

Mr Koum said he is aiming for two billion WhatsApp users in the near term.

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