Google CEO Sundar Pichai has reportedly met with Pavel Durov, the 32-year-old CEO of Telegram, to discuss a possible acquisition of the encrypted messaging app at a valuation of $1 billion, according to several reports in Russian media.
According to sources close to Telegram speaking to Secret Mag, the meeting took place in May — when Pichai was head of Android at Google, as he didn't assume the role of CEO until October 2015 — and while Durov refused to confirm or deny the meeting took place, he said a collaboration with Google was “out of the question.” Previously the company said it refused an offer similar to the $19 billion Facebook paid for WhatsApp in 2014, saying the app is “not for sale and not for profit.”
When asked about the reports, Google told International Business Times that it does not comment on rumor or speculation while Telegram has so far not responded to requests for a comment.
The meeting between Durov and Pichai was confirmed by sources speaking to RBC TV while Tech.eu reported seeing Durov speaking in February this year with Rich Miner, co-founder of Android and now a general partner at Google Ventures.
Google is said to be working on a new messaging app of its own which will integrate artificial intelligence and chatbots as it tries to play catch up with the likes of Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger, Snapchat and Chinese rivals like Tencent’s WeChat and QQ. Google’s own messaging apps — Hangouts and Messenger — have failed to capture a significant slice of the market.
Telegram itself has announced plans to integrate chatbots into its messaging app with Durov promising to pay developers up to $1 million to create bots for Telegram.
Dubbed “Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg,” Durov created the hugely popular social networking site VKontakte before being forced out by investors linked to the Kremlin. Three years ago, Durov launched the messaging app Telegram from an office in Buffalo, New York, with a focus on privacy and security, making it difficult for anyone to monitor communications on the system.
In February Durov announced Telegram had reached 100 million users with 350,000 new users signing up daily. It sends 15 billion messages every single day according to the company. Telegram has no revenue model and the Moscow Times reports that Durov spends up to $1 million per month to keep the app running — having left Russia with $300 million from the sale of his VKontakte shares.
Business Insider reports that Durov — who only ever wears black — now spends his time traveling around the world with four employees staying at locations booked on AirBnB.
While Telegram’s user numbers are impressive, WhatsApp and Messenger (both owned by Facebook) are still streets ahead, boasting 1 billion and 900 million active users respectively. Google doesn’t have a messaging app to compete and therefore reports that it could be considering acquiring Telegram are not hugely surprising. In terms of valuation, considering Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp at a time when it had 450 million users, the reported $1 billion price tag for Telegram is not outside the realms of possibility.
However, Telegram also comes with some concerns for any potential buyer. In the wake of the terror attacks against Paris last year, the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, was seen to encourage the use of Telegram among its followers due to its built-in security and the ability to set messages to self-destruct after a set amount of time.
Despite the company's claim that the app “keeps your messages safe from hacker attacks,” there are some who don’t see Telegram as being the secure network it claims to be. “Telegram is error prone, has wonky homebrew encryption, leaks voluminous metadata, steals the address book, and is now known as a terrorist hangout,” respected security expert known as The Grugq says. “I couldn’t possibly think of a worse combination for a safe messenger.”