WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum resigns from Facebook after clashes over user data

WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Image: Reuters/Albert Gea
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WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, who created the world’s biggest messaging app before selling it for $19 billion in 2014, is resigning from Facebook and its board, reportedly over the company’s attempts to weaken encryption and collect more detailed information on users.

The Washington Post (paywall) reports that Koum was slowly worn down by the company’s attempts to tie WhatsApp users into the detailed profiles that Facebook and Instagram use to target ads. Koum, who sold WhatsApp along with co-founder Brian Acton in 2014, confirmed his departure in a Facebook post.

WhatsApp has 1.5 billion monthly users, but no obvious business model. Its founders were opposed to carrying advertising, and Facebook dropped a $0.99-per-year subscription fee when it bought the company.

“Acton and Koum acquiesced enabling Facebook to recommend that users’ WhatsApp contacts become their Facebook friends, allowing Facebook to collect more data about those relationships,” the Post reported. “The changes also allowed advertisers to feed lists of phone numbers into Facebook’s advertising system, known as custom audiences, and find new people to target with ads.”

Koum also plans to step down from Facebook’s board. His decision reportedly predates the company’s devastating Cambridge Analytica scandal, but reflects many of the same criticisms that have dogged Facebook in recent months. Zuckerberg wished Koum well on Facebook.

Since Acton left Facebook in September, he has become one of the company’s biggest critics, promoting #DeleteFacebook on social media and becoming executive chairman at Signal, a rival messaging app that emphasizes security and privacy.