MENLO PARK (CBS/AP) – Facebook is buying mobile messaging service WhatsApp for up to $19 billion in cash and stock, by far the company’s largest acquisition.

The world’s biggest social networking company announced the purchase Wednesday afternoon, saying it will pay $12 billion in Facebook stock and $4 billion in cash for WhatsApp. In addition, the app’s founders and employees will be granted $3 billion in restricted stock that will vest over four years after the deal closes.

WhatsApp is a Mountain View-based cross-platform messaging service popular in Asia, Latin America and Europe. The company claims over 400 million people use the service each month. By comparison, Twitter had 241 million users at the end of 2014.

“WhatsApp is on a path to connect 1 billion people,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement announcing the acquisition. “The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable.”

Facebook says it is keeping WhatsApp as a separate service, just as it did with Instagram, which it bought for about $715.3 million.

KCBS’ Technology Analyst Larry Magid called the acquisition brilliant and that instead of buying the technology, they’re really gaining a vast amount of users. 

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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