WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum is to leave Facebook after reportedly clashing with Facebook’s attempts to use its personal data and weaken its encryption.

After the Washington Post broke the news, citing people familiar with internal discussions, Koum confirmed the news with his own Facebook post.

Koum said he would take some time off to do things he enjoys outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches.

Koum departure

Koum’s departure comes after the other WhatsApp co-founder, Brian Acton, left Facebook in November last year.

Acton then joined a number of former executives critical of Facebook and he recently endorsed the #DeleteFacebook campaign that has gained force in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.

The departure of Koum draws into question WhatsApp’s chances of retaining its strong privacy hertitage.

Indeed, governments around the world are unhappy with WhatsApp because of its use of end-to-end encryption, which they feel threatens security if the service is used by terrorists.

Facebook of course acquired WhatsApp in early 2014 in a deal worth $19 billion (£11.4bn).

At the time the acquisition raised some eyebrows due to the major cultural differences between how Facebook and WhatsApp regard customer privacy.

Indeed, things got so bad at one stage that Koum was forced to deny claims that the app would soon be hit by new privacy policies following its acquisition by Facebook

But then in 2016 the rug was effectively pulled out from under Koum when Facebook controversially decided to update WhatsApp’s terms of service and privacy policy in August 2016, to include sharing data with the social network.

Indeed, such was the controversy that Facebook had to suspend in November 2016 data sharing between its social network and WhatsApp across the European Union.

That same month WhatsApp also suspended such data sharing activity in the UK.

Last year, the European Commission, the European Union’s regulatory authority, fined Facebook $122 million for making “misleading” statements when the EU approved the WhatsApp takeover.

Koum statement

Koum in his Facebook post admitted to feeling emotional at his decision to leave the firm he co-founded.

“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,” he wrote.

“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.

“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,” he added. “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.”

Cultural clash

But despite the fine words, it seems that his departurewas down to the cultural clash between WhatsApp and Facebook.

Koum and Acton when they created WhatsApp were openly critical of the targeted advertising model, which Facebook utilises.

Indeed, WhatsApp was famous for its no ads approach, and in the early days preferred to implement a $0.99 annual charge for use of the messaging service.

Both men in a WhatsApp blog post in 2012 reportedly wrote that “no one wakes up excited to see more advertising; no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow.” They described online advertising as “a disruption to aesthetics, an insult to your intelligence, and the interruption of your train of thought.”

The WhatsApp co-founders were also big believers in privacy and went to great lengths to collect as little data as possible from their users, requiring only phone numbers. This stance put them at odds with data-hungry Facebook.

According to the Washington Post, Koum was eventually worn down by the differences in approach between Facebook and WhatsApp.

The exact date of his departure isn’t known, but Koum had reportedly in recent months been showing up less frequently to WhatsApp’s offices on Facebook’s campus in Silicon Valley,

The newspaper also reported that other WhatsApp employees are demoralized and plan to leave in November, when they are allowed to exercise all their stock options under the terms of the Facebook deal.

Facebook reportedly declined to comment for the Washington Post on the reasons for Koum’s departure but didn’t dispute the accounts.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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