Chris Cox, arguably the most important person at Facebook after Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, is leaving the company, Zuckerberg announced on Thursday (March 14).
Cox’s departure comes as Facebook is preparing its purported pivot to a privacy-focused social network, and just one day after the New York Times reported (paywall) a criminal investigation into Facebook’s data-sharing agreements with more than 150 companies. Chris Daniels, who was heading up WhatsApp, is also leaving.
“[We] are turning a new page in our product direction, focused on an encrypted, interoperable, messaging network,” Cox wrote in a Facebook post Thursday. “It’s a product vision attuned to the subject matter of today: a modern communications platform that balances expression, safety, security, and privacy. This will be a big project and we will need leaders who are excited to see the new direction through.”
The departures are just the latest in a string of high-profile exits from Facebook in the past several months, and mean the company’s leadership team will undergo a significant reshuffling. According to Zuckerberg’s post, WhatsApp will get a new leader in Will Cathcart, who has until now been the head of the main Facebook app. Fidji Simo, who had been a product boss for video, advertising, and news, will take over Cathcart’s role. Cathcart and Simo, along with the heads of Messenger and Instagram, will report directly to Zuckerberg (they had previously been under Cox and another executive).
Cox has been at Facebook for 13 years; he took on on a variety of roles, and acted as a key aide to Zuckerberg. Here’s how Zuckerberg describes Cox’s tenure:
Chris and I have worked closely together to build our products for more than a decade and I will always appreciate his deep empathy for the people using our services and the uplifting spirit he brings to everything he does. He has played so many central roles at Facebook — starting as an engineer on our original News Feed, building our first HR teams and helping to define our mission and values, leading our product and design teams, running the Facebook app, and most recently overseeing the strategy for our family of apps. Along the way, Chris has helped train many great leaders who are now in important roles across the company — including some who will now take on bigger roles in our new product efforts.
Zuckerberg says Cox had been talking about starting “something else” for several years, but stayed at Facebook to help guide it through the turmoil it has experienced since 2016.
Daniels took over WhatsApp only last year, after heading up Internet.org, Facebook’s effort to wire the world with affordable internet access.