WhatsApp Co-founder Jan Koum is not looking in good shape as he shared his plans to move out from the company after a clash with WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook. The clash which reportedly happened on the issue of weakening WhatsApp’s encryption and Facebook’s attempt to use the personal messaging service’s data has likely irked the co-founder and pushed him into this decision. Jan Koum whose story is one of the wildly popular ones in Silicon Valley also remarked that he would step down from the board of directors of Facebook too. Although, he didn’t go as ahead to tell a certain date. Koum also shared his views about the same on a Facebook post after he told his story to Washington Post saying “It is time for me to move on.” Sources also say that Jan was showing up less frequently to his office these last days and was also going about telling his decision to the senior execs at Facebook and WhatsApp.
When Brian Acton and Jan Koum came together, they saw a vision of developing a personal messaging platform which would be free of any kind of ads and would serve people without leveraging their data or security. In 2014, both the co-founders sold the company to Facebook for $19 Billion. WhatsApp also proved to be true to its word when they introduced the end-to-end encryption for their messages in the year 2016. However, in the wake of new incidents such as the Cambridge Analytica one, things seem to be going sour for the company.
Also, when Jan Koum took to Facebook to tell his reasons, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg replied by saying “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.”
Daniel Ives, chief strategy officer and head of technology research for research firm GBH Insights also remarked about the issue saying “Part of Facebook’s success has been to digest acquisitions, successfully monetise them, and integrate them into their advertising machine.” He further added, “This was a massive culture clash.”
This is the first time that Facebook is facing this kind of backlash from someone inside the company. It is safe to say that even during perilous times when Facebook has been surrounded by bad faith, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, who are other two members of the board, have kept the company going under their leadership. When Washington Post asked about Jan’s reasons for leaving the company, Facebook declined to make any comment.
Jan however, lightheartedly said that he would focus on other things “such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee.”
The second co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton left the company in November last year post which he joined a group of people who are critical of Facebook’s actions. Brian also notoriously made a tweet including #DeleteFacebook which came under the eyes of a lot of people and generated heavy media influence. Reports say that Jan Koum made his decision to leave the company even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to public knowledge. Although it is true that the growing cynicism from the press and media did create an environment of frustration among the WhatsApp employees.
The story of the founding of WhatsApp has been one of the most revolutionary ones in the Silicon Valley, combined with the fact that WhatsApp has been Facebook’s largest acquisition till date. When the company was making less than $20 millions in revenue in 2014 was acquired by a giant like Facebook, there were still clashes about how the platform would evolve. They also talked about their ideas about the personal messaging platform saying in a WhatsApp blog post “no one wakes up excited to see more advertising; no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow.” They even described online advertising as “a disruption to aesthetics, an insult to your intelligence, and the interruption of your train of thought.”
When the acquisition of the company was made by Facebook, founders said “WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently,” the founders wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. “And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication.” However, after sometime Facebook’s promises started to wear out as the company pushed the messaging platform to share the phone numbers and the OS information of WhatsApp users with Facebook. Both the founders were against Facebook’s step of creating a profile which would use WhatsApp data and then could be used to run targeted Facebook Ads.
Last year, the company came got surrounded by controversy when the European Commission, the European Union’s regulatory authority, fined Facebook $122 million for making “misleading” statements when the E.U. approved the WhatsApp takeover. Main struggles between the founders and the execs came up when both the parties differed in their plans for WhatsApp’s source of revenue. While Zuckerberg removed the 99-cent annual fees from WhatsApp and launched a stand-alone application called WhatsApp Business for Business entities to use, Jan Koum found himself at discomfort by seeing his vision of WhatsApp being manipulated by Facebook. The founders also were on opposite sides of the spectrum on the decision of launching a payment service in India over WhatsApp.
In 2016, when WhatsApp implemented end-to-end encryption for their messages the decision was also deemed against Facebook’s vision which wanted to make it easy for businesses to use their tools. WhatsApp employees were of the thought that doing so will mean weakening the encryption of the messaging service and will thus put user security and privacy in jeopardy. Eventually, it was revealed by a Washington Post report that the employees at WhatsApp are demoralised and are planning to leave the company in November, which is four years and one month after the acquisition. This would allow the employees to exercise their stock options.
Brian Acton on the other hand, who left the company last year donated $50 million as a sign of his vision towards privacy and security of users’ data, to Signal, a rival messaging app that is geared toward security and privacy. He said that his vision was to build “the most trusted communications experience on the planet.”
He announced his donation over a blog post and highlighted his role as the executive chairman of the nonprofit Signal Foundation. This act by the former exec of WhatsApp also generated a lot of heat from media.