Jan Koum, chief executive, WhatsApp, is set to leave the company after differences with the parent company, Facebook. The biggest bone of contention – and it is something that has been plaguing the social media giant for the last few months – is the much-used but often ignored ‘P’ word: privacy. According to a news report in The Washington Post, Koum has been frequenting the WhatsApp offices less on Facebook’s campus in Silicon Valley. Among other issues, the idea of WhatsApp Payments and WhatsApp for Business – both big bets in India – also didn’t go down too well with Koum.
In a Facebook post, Koum wrote, “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 responded to Koum’s post by saying, “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.”
It doesn’t seem all hunky and dory as these polite and diplomatically correct posts indicate. The news report in Washington Post suggests that the ‘clash’ began after Facebook’s troubles with privacy began. Koum, along with Brian Acton, WhatsApp’s co-founder have been big advocates of treating users’ data carefully. Incidentally, Acton had left the company in November, months before the Cambridge Analytica data scandal broke. Acton, if you remember, was one of the first big names to come out and say #DeleteFacebook.
WhatsApp was founded by Acton and Koum in 2009 and grew exponentially in the next five years. However, both Acton and Koum never hid their disdain about online advertising. As The Washington Post notes that in a blog post written in 2012, both the co-founders said that online advertising was “a disruption to aesthetics, an insult to your intelligence, and the interruption of your train of thought.”
The clash of ideologies was bound to happen as WhatsApp collects – or at least used to collect – as little information from its users. In contrast, Facebook has always been high on getting as much information as possible from its user base. Almost 18 months back, WhatsApp terms of service changed and it gave access of phone numbers – along with other data – to Facebook.
WhatsApp has always remained ad-free but tools like WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Payments are supposed to be revenue generators. India is considered one of the key markets for both these new WhatsApp tools.
The Washington Post further suggests that there could be a mass exodus at WhatsApp in November as that’s the time most employees are “allowed to exercise all their stock options” under the terms of Facebook deal.