WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum is quitting the company due to disagreements over data privacy with owner Facebook.
The Guardian reports that WhatsApp was developed with user privacy as the main focus. Indeed, Koum said at the time of Facebook’s $19bn acquisition in 2014 that users “can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication” and that “there would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product”.
However, Facebook has come under increasing pressure to better monetise the service’s 1.5bn monthly users. In 2016 it started sharing some user data, although this led to an EU fine. It has nonetheless continued to pursue a model of providing tools to businesses that are designed to reach WhatsApp users.
It is understood that this desire clashed with WhatsApp’s current end-to-end encryption that prevents anyone – including WhatsApp and Facebook themselves – from accessing message content.
“It’s been almost a decade since Brian [Acton] 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,” Koum said on Facebook.
“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.”
Mark Zuckerberg himself later replied to this post, saying: “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. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp.”
Fellow WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton left the company last year and has been one of many high-profile tech names to join the #deletefacebook campaign.