WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum is the latest employee to leave Facebook after its data scandal. According to The Washington Post, the WhatsApp CEO fundamentally disagreed with the service’s strategy, as well as attempts by Facebook to weaken encryption and use personal data.
Needless to say, this is an unusual situation. Koum sold his messaging service to Facebook for $19 billion in 2016 and is one of three executives on the company’s board of directors. Sources familiar with the matter say he has been showing up to the Silicon Valley campus less frequently in recent months.
It seems this is a move Koum has been planning for some time, perhaps even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal. His co-founder Brian Acton left Facebook in September of last year to start the Signal foundation, a non-profit focused on open source privacy technology.
As you would expect, Koum himself has been quiet about his reasoning. On his public Facebook page, he cited “taking some time off to do things I enjoy”, and noted that he will be watching from a distance.
It's been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it's been an amazing journey with some of the best…
A Shaky History
Replying to his post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised Koum for teaching him about the importance of encryption and more.
“I will miss working so closely with you. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done to help connect the world, and for everything you’ve taught me, including about encryption and its ability to take power from centralized systems and put it back in people’s hands. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp,” he said.
The comment did not garner a response from Koum, nor did well wishes from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. It’s worth noting, however, that Koum and Acton had misgivings from the early days.
With the announcement of the acquisition, the founders assured users they’d been promised WhatsApp would not be required to share its data with Facebook, nor would it target advertisements at users. That soon evaporated, and sources familiar with the matter say the executives were highly uncomfortable with the use of its service to create a unified users profile across Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Facebook was later fined $122 million by the EU for being misleading during its approval of the acquisition.
The Washington Post says more WhatsApp employees will follow Koum in November. It appears by joining Facebook, the messaging service has had to compromise more than just its independence. The founding principles of the company are fully at odds with the social media’s current strategy, and it’s unlikely that will change any time soon.