On Monday, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum announced that he will depart Facebook, nearly four years after the powerful social network acquired the messaging app for $19 billion.
The news of Koum’s departure was first reported by the Washington Post and later confirmed in a Facebook post by Koum himself. According to the Post, his exit is the result of battles with Facebook over WhatsApp’s “strategy and Facebook’s attempts to use its personal data an weaken its encryption.” Besides leaving the helm of WhatsApp, Koum will also reportedly vacate his spot on Facebook’s board of directors.
It appears that Koum’s decision didn’t happen suddenly. The Post cites several clashes between WhatsApp and Facebook: disagreements over the use of advertising; resistance to incorporating WhatsApp into Facebook’s web of data providers, including Instagram; and suspicions that Facebook would implement changes that would weaken the app’s encryption. (It adopted end-to-end encryption in 2016.)
Koum’s note was decidedly more vague. ”It’s time for me to move on,” he wrote, adding that he would take 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.” (We’d award him points for honesty, but his Porsches are worth more.)
In a strange and somewhat stilted comment on the post, Mark Zuckerberg thanked Koum, writing that he was “grateful … 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.” Sure!
While the Post’s sources say Koum’s decision was prior to the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, the timing here is certainly worth considering. As the story notes, Facebook’s higher ups have generally been steadfast in their defense of the company through its darker times; Koum’s departure goes against the always-stay-loyal-to-Facebook ethos.
Besides Koum, Brian Acton, WhatsApp’s other co-founder, has already made his displeasure with Facebook quite clear. Since leaving the company in November, he has advised users to delete Facebook and donated $50 million to Signal, a competitor. In March, it was reported that Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer, was also on the way out, although he chalked it up to a change in his role.
Of course, in some ways, it’s easy for these guys to take a stand now that they’ve been paid. Sure, Koum could stand to lose $1 billion if he leaves before his stock fully vests, but what’s that to a guy worth a reported $10.4 billion?
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but we’ll update if we hear back.