WhatsApp chief quits in wake of Cambridge Analytica scandal

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum is breaking ties with his company's parent, Facebook, amid a privacy scandal that has dogged the social network for weeks.

Koum and Acton started WhatsApp in 2009, charging US$0.99 annually for private communications and gathered nearly 500 million users by 2014, according to the Washington Post.

However, Facebook has been under pressure to make money out of the free, encrypted messaging service, which now has 1.5 billion monthly users, and has been taking steps that have chipped away at some of WhatsApp's values. Both Koum, and WhatApp's other co-founder, Brian Acton, had expressed an aversion to allowing ads into their service, causing analysts to wonder if the acquisition would ever pay off for Facebook.

Other gradual changes that pushed Facebook and WhatsApp closer together reportedly served to increase tensions between the two companies, culminating in Koum announcing his departure this week, with the Post describing the Ukrainian-born entrepreneur as "worn down by the differences in approach". "It is time for me to move on", he writes.

He said he was leaving to pursue interests such as working on his auto, playing ultimate frisbee and collecting Porsches. "And I'll still be cheering WhatsApp on - just from the outside".

"I will miss working so closely with you", Zuckerberg wrote. Their philosophy of collecting as little data as possible from their users appears to clash with Facebook's policy of snooping on users to the extent possible.

Mr. Koum's departure followed an internal debate over whether to put advertising in WhatsApp, a move that Mr. Koum opposed, as did Mr. Acton, according to a person familiar with the matter.

However, according to a different report from The Washington Post, Koum has clashed with Facebook "over the popular messaging service's strategy and Facebook's attempts to use its personal data and weaken its encryption".

The company rapidly gained global popularity, with some 450 million users by the time the founders agreed to sell to Facebook in February 2014, following five days of talks that ended on Valentine's Day.

WhatsApp, a pun on the phrase "What's up?" grew in popularity in part because its messages are stored on users' smartphones and not on the company's servers, making the service more private and hard to hack.

Action left the company last fall and since then has become a vocal critic of Facebook, recently endorsing a #DeleteFacebook social media campaign.

Despite the Post's reporting, Koum portrayed his departure in positive terms.

Koum and Acton applied to work at Facebook, but failed.

  • Latoya Cobb