WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum today announced he was leaving the company. While he’s mum on the exact cause, rumors point to frustration with Facebook over advertising and data privacy.
In a Facebook post, Koum said:
It’s been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an amazing journey with some of the best people. But it is time for me to move on. I’ve been blessed to work with such an incredibly small team and see how a crazy amount of focus can produce an app used by so many people all over the world.
A report from the Washington Post, which broke shortly before Koum posted his statement, suggests the reason Koum is departing is due to a disagreement with Facebook. He allegedly clashed with the larger company, which bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, over issues of privacy and the security of user data.
In departing WhatsApp, he also steps down from FB’s board of directors.
If this is the reason for Koum’s departure, it’d be the latest in a string of hard knocks in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
WhatsApp began sharing some of its users personal data with Facebook in 2016, in order to improve ad targeting. This went against the company’s stated disdain for ads — WhatsApp’s other founder, Brian Acton, told Forbes in 2014, “You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better.”
For what its worth, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to Koum’s post with the following statement:
Jan: 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.
If the rumors are true and Koum is leaving out of exasperation with Facebook’s policy on encryption, that response could be read as rather pointed. In related news, Brian Acton joined the #DeleteFacebook movement last month, having left the company himself some time ago.
As for what Koum will be doing after this, he said:
I’m taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee. And I’ll still be cheering WhatsApp on – just from the outside.
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