Facebook mum as WhatsApp founder departs over data concerns
In another blow to Facebook, WhatsApp founder and Facebook board member Jan
Koum is leaving.
The apparent reason for the split is a culture clash surrounding
encryption, data and privacy stemming from Facebook’s attempts to monetize
its acquisition of Koum’s messaging app.
The independence and protection of its users’ data is a core tenet of
WhatsApp that Koum and his co-founder, Brian Acton, promised to preserve
when they sold their tiny start-up to Facebook. It doubled down on its
pledge by adding encryption in 2016. The clash over data took on additional
significance in the wake of revelations in March that Facebook had allowed
third parties to mishandle its users’ personal information.
Koum announced his departure in a Facebook post:
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg replied to the post with a comment:
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.
Koum’s departure is significant for Facebook, which has been reeling after
revelations that it had allowed Cambridge Analytica access to user
information without consent during U.S. elections in 2016.
[WEBCAST: Prepare, protect and promote your organization and brand in a climate of crisis.]
The Washington Post
Koum’s exit is highly unusual at Facebook. The inner circle of management,
as well as the board of directors, has been fiercely loyal during the
scandals that have rocked the social media giant. In addition, Koum is the
sole founder of a company acquired by Facebook to serve on its board. Only
two other Facebook executives, Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer
Sheryl Sandberg, are members of the board.
Facebook has declined to comment on Koum’s departure but does not dispute
accounts of the internal schism.
Questions remain for the future of WhatsApp. Facebook has tinkered with the
platform, attempting to bring businesses into the loop, launching WhatsApp
for Business, among other developments. With Koum’s departure, users might
expect a weakening of the app’s encryption and the sharing of more user
data with advertisers.
Commentary on multiple fronts
In a guest column for Business Insider titled “WhatsApp cofounder
Jan Koum’s departure from Facebook is cowardly and leaves users in the
lurch,” Shona Gosh wrote: “It takes some gall to sell out your users while
showing off about how many Porsches you can now buy.”
Others applauded Koum for taking a stand. Dan Goldstein, president and owner of Page 1 Solutions, said the move shows Koum’s commitment to privacy.
“I applaud Jan Koum for taking a stand to protect private personal data of customers,” Goldstein says. “This is another ‘slap in Mark Zuckerberg’s face’ that should encourage Facebook to speed up its efforts to strengthen the protection of users’ data. At this point, not only Facebook, but every other major digital platform, should aggressively re-evaluate user privacy safeguards.”
On Twitter, users posited that WhatsApp would suffer under Facebook’s
Get ready for Facebook to turn WhatsApp into the same surveillance shithole as the rest of its empire. The last remaining founder is quitting as Facebook plans to break its promises on privacy, security, and integration with the Borg. https://t.co/SJNCmOBCY8
— DHH (@dhh) April 30, 2018
Some suggested deleting the app:
Now may be a good time to #deleteWhatsApp https://t.co/fmKgoRpqsE
— Volker Weber (@vowe) April 30, 2018
Others shared rival apps to replace WhatsApp:
— Gilles Gravier (@gravax) May 1, 2018
For Facebook, the departure extends the controversy in the wake of the
Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress
about the security of user data. Though Facebook may want to project a
façade of security and responsibility, Koum’s departure underscores the
persisting tension between privacy advocates and the company’s business
How would you advise Facebook to respond, PR Daily readers? Is
silence the best option for the company?