The Industry

Another WhatsApp Founder Is Leaving Facebook—Reportedly Over How It Treats User Data

Koum reportedly disagreed with Facebook over user privacy.
Koum reportedly disagreed with Facebook over user privacy. TOBIAS HASE/AFP/Getty Images

WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum is leaving the company due to disagreements with its parent, Facebook, the Washington Post was first to report Monday afternoon. Koum reportedly took issue with Facebook’s plans to use WhatsApp’s user data and weaken its encryption.

Koum didn’t hint at any strife, however, in his Facebook post commenting on his departure:

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.

I’m leaving at a time when people are using WhatsApp in more ways than I could have imagined. The team is stronger than ever and it’ll continue to do amazing things. 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. Thanks to everyone who has made this journey possible.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also responded amicably to Koum’s 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.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, its largest acquisition ever. Protection of user data has been central to WhatsApp’s mission since its founding, and executives had promised at the time of the acquisition that the company would not share data with its parent or require that users integrate the service with their Facebook accounts.

Yet Facebook pressured WhatsApp a year later to provide it with info on users of the service, such as phone numbers and operating system analytics. WhatsApp’s executives took particular exception to Facebook’s plans to develop user profiles across platforms, allowing for better data collection for ad-targeting, but ended up cooperating in the end.

WhatsApp had installed end-to-end encryption for all communications on the service by 2016, which eventually became an issue when Facebook created a tool called WhatsApp Business in 2017 as a way to increase the platform’s revenue. WhatsApp’s executives believed that the tool, which allowed businesses to create profiles to communicate with customers, would require the platform to weaken its encryption.

Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp with Koum, left the company in September.
He made headlines in March by voicing his support for the #DeleteFacebook movement soon after news broke that Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed private info from up to 87 million accounts on the platform.

Koum leaves WhatsApp with a net worth of $10 billion, and last sold around $3 billion in Facebook stock in 2017. One dares not imagine how many air-cooled Porsches such a sum will buy.