WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum leaves Facebook

Move due to clashes over watering down of encryption, it is reported

WhatsApp founder Jan Koum is leaving Facebook to take time off to “collect rare aircooled Porsches and play Ultimate frisbee”. Photograph: Reuters

WhatsApp founder Jan Koum is leaving Facebook to take time off to “collect rare aircooled Porsches and play Ultimate frisbee”. Photograph: Reuters

 

Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp and board member at Facebook, announced on Monday that he is stepping down from the social network, as the company struggles to deal with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

His departure comes after a change in role for Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, who is now working on emerging security risks and election security, rather than overseeing the whole security operation at the company. Brian Acton, WhatsApp co-founder, left Facebook late last year.

Mr Koum, who sold the messaging app to Facebook for $22 billion (€18.2 billion ) in 2014, wrote on Facebook that he was leaving to take time off to collect rare aircooled Porsches and play Ultimate frisbee.

Encryption

His announcement came shortly after the Washington Post reported that he had clashed with Facebook as it attempted to weaken the end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp and use its personal data.

WhatsApp is the only Facebook app to use this type of encryption, which ensures the company never sees messages – protecting users from, for example, law enforcement requests, but also ensuring that advertisers harvest no data from the app.

When Facebook bought WhatsApp it promised not to change its privacy policy. But two years later it changed it to allow for sharing of some information between the apps. The U-turn on privacy led to Facebook being fined $122 million (€102 billion) by the EU last year.

“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,” he wrote.

Mr Acton recently tweeted “#deletefacebook”, joining the users who responded to the revelations of a massive data leak to Cambridge Analytica by deleting the app.

Mr Koum’s departure comes at an inopportune moment for Facebook, which has been trying to get back on the offensive, announcing a series of changes to how developers can access data and trying to be more transparent with users.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, on Tuesday is expected to give a keynote address at the group’s annual developer conference in San Jose, California. The speech will be his first public appearance since being quizzed by Congress earlier this month.

Acquisition

Mr Zuckerberg responded to Mr Koum’s post about his departure on Facebook, saying he will miss working so closely with him. In a statement that appeared to try to contradict the Washington Post article, Mr Zuckerberg said: “I’m grateful for everything you have 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. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp.”

Mr Koum’s departure will also leave a vacant seat on the board, where most members have been for several years.

WhatsApp was by far Facebook’s largest acquisition. The price tag turned heads at the time as it seemed huge for a start-up with about 50 staff and no revenue. Facebook began last year to try to generate revenue from the app, taking it slowly with trials aimed at charging businesses to message customers. The messaging app now has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018