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The App for Migrants on the Road

December 22, 2016
Plain English Version
Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp

Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp

What is WhatsApp? WhatsApp is a way people talk to each other all around the world. It is for text messages, video and phone calls over the internet. It is free. It is safe. It is easy to use.

More than a billion people use WhatsApp. It has become a way of life for migrants. Its record on privacy and security is good

The man behind WhatsApp is an immigrant from Ukraine by the name of Jan Koum. He left Ukraine in the early 1990s with his mother. In part, they left to escape anti-Semitism. They went to America.

His mother worked as a babysitter. He swept floors at a grocery store in San Francisco. When she got cancer, the family lived off her disability payments.

The story of Koum’s rise is an epic Silicon Valley adventure. Years of trial and error began in 2009. He saw the possibilities of a global network that was free and easy to use.

He raised the money he needed. He worked on the product to make it better. He named it WhatsApp. In the end, he sold it to Facebook for $19 billion. He still owns a lot of the company. He signed the deal in front of the same office where he once got food stamps.

Today, WhatsApp users pay $1 for the app. That may change with Facebook. Koum is against selling advertising.

WhatsApp changes the life of immigrants. It has become the best way to stay connected while traveling or moving. Once people have arrived where they are going, it helps them keep in touch with the people they left back home. Migrants say it eases their sense of isolation.

Most Syrian refugees use WhatsApp. They trust it. One said it has created more refugees. One woman said, “People would have a group with their friends, and one of them would make it to the other side. They would send them back a message telling them what the trip was like. They shared photos. That is what caused a lot of people to decide to do it. They saw exactly what was going to happen on WhatsApp.”

Jan Koum says, “A lot of us at WhatsApp were born in other countries. We recognize how important it is for people to connect with family thousands of miles away. It is something we think about a lot.”

Source: The New York Times December 21, 2016

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