WhatsApp CEO, co-founder to leave Facebook

WhatsApp founder and Chief Executive Officer Jan Koum is leaving Facebook, just a few years after his messaging app was acquired by the social-media giant for $22bn (R276bn).

With Koum’s departure, Facebook loses one of its staunchest internal advocates for user privacy, amid a broader crisis of trust over Facebook’s treatment of personal data.

Koum posted his plan to depart on his Facebook page, saying the decision was emotional. His mobile-messaging tool, which has been kept separate from Facebook’s main social network, its Messenger app and other businesses, is known for offering end-to-end encryption, meaning only the sender and recipient can see the content of messages. The app has about 1.5 billion users worldwide.

The news received a quick response from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “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 centralised systems and put it back in people’s hands,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp.”

The Washington Post reported earlier that Koum is exiting the company after clashing with Facebook over strategy, and that he also plans to leave Facebook’s board.

The other co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, also left recently – and last month posted the #DeleteFacebook hashtag during the social network’s scandal over user privacy.

When asked who will replace Koum at the head of WhatsApp, or whether he plans to remain on Facebook’s board, the company said it had no comment.

The company also declined to comment on whether Facebook plans to start advertising on WhatsApp – a business model the founders promised they would never use.

Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp in 2014 was quick and expensive, at a time when Zuckerberg was racing to expand the company’s reach on mobile devices. Koum is the only executive to have been given a board seat as part of a Facebook acquisition.

It was unclear at the time how the social network might implement its business model – based on gathering user data to better target advertisements – at WhatsApp, and there was a clash of cultures from the beginning.

Koum and Acton remained committed to privacy and encryption, while Facebook needed to find a way to make money from the app.

WhatsApp’s strict encryption helps Facebook serve an audience that cares deeply about privacy, but it has gotten the company into other kinds of legal trouble.

Facebook has been frequently sued around the world for records related to potentially criminal conversations on WhatsApp, which the company says it can’t access because of the app’s encryption.

Koum didn’t elaborate on his reasons for leaving aside from saying in his statement that it’s time for him to move on after almost a decade.

“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,” Koum wrote. “And I’ll still be cheering WhatsApp on – just from the outside.”

* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
All Share
55339.58
(+0.99)
Top 40
50692.28
(+0.83)
Financial 15
10790.70
(+3.99)
Industrial 25
74905.70
(+1.05)
Resource 10
52561.57
(-0.49)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, and I've gotten it.
24% - 69 votes
No, I did not.
52% - 150 votes
My landlord refused
24% - 71 votes
Vote