The social network spent up to $19bn on WhatsApp, the fast-growing chat app, on Wednesday after Mark Zuckerberg met with its founders the Sunday before last.
WhatsApp is a publicity-shy, 50-person outfit based just down the road from Facebook. Unlike many companies in Silicon Valley, which drink up as much funding as possible, it was run leanly on funding of only about $60m, half as much as the much smaller Snapchat. Unlike most internet companies, it does not take advertising, instead charging modest subscription fees of $1 a year to some users.
But quietly, over four years, it has grown to almost half the size of Facebook. Lured by the promise of a cheap and fast alternative to text messaging, 450m users log on every month with a million more joining each day.