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Jan Koum, the chief executive and co-founder of WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, is leaving the company over disagreements about privacy and encryption. Koum will also step down from Facebook’s board of directors, a role he negotiated when WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for $19bn in 2014.
The WhatsApp messaging application was built with a focus on privacy and a disdain for ads. But the Facebook-owned service is now planning to capture and sell WhatsApp user’s data, messages and personal information for profit.
This, in the wake of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration before the United States Congress that he would scale back the level of Facebook spying on its users. Instead of cutting back its privacy violations, it is actually planning to expand them.
“It’s been almost a decade since Brian [Acton] 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,” wrote Koum on his Facebook profile. When it was bought by Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg promised users that these values wouldn’t be compromised.
However, Facebook has been under pressure to make money out of the free, encrypted messaging service, which now has 1.5 billion monthly users. Facebook has been taking steps that have chipped away at some of WhatsApp’s values.
In 2016, WhatsApp announced it would start sharing some user data, including phone numbers and contact names with Facebook – a move that was deeply unpopular among European regulators, who ordered Facebook to stop collecting data from WhatsApp users and fined the company.
Since then WhatsApp has started the data capture process in the US and Australia. WhatsApp users are abandoning the messaging service and moving to more secure platforms such as Signal.
According to the Washington Post, which spoke to “people familiar with internal discussions” over Koum’s departure, there were tensions with Facebook over WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp executives believed that Facebook’s desire to capture more of the personal information of its user base violated the core principles that WhatsApp was founded with.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s privacy practices have come under the microscope, with momentum gathering behind the #DeleteFacebook movement.
Acton, who left Facebook in September 2017, was one of the most startling people to declare a breakup with the social network, posting to Twitter in March: “It is time. #deletefacebook.”