WhatsApp founder leaves Facebook over alleged privacy row

May 1, 2018 // 11:44 a.m.

Tags: #brian-acton #cryptography #encryption #end-to-end-encryption #facebook #jan-joum #mark-zuckerberg #whatsapp

WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum has left the company over a reported disagreement with its corporate overlord Facebook regarding the service's strong end-to-end cryptography - something Facebook is claimed to be looking to weaken.

Launched by Jan Koum and Brian Acton in 2009, WhatsApp Messenger quickly became one of the most popular instant messaging applications around. The software got a shot in the arm in 2014 when it partnered with Open Whisper Systems to incorporate the company's end-to-end cryptography technology directly into WhatsApp, making every message, voice chat, video chat, photo, or file sent over the service functionally immune to interception or editing in-transit.

That functionality, though, is reportedly at the heart of a disagreement between WhatsApp and social media giant Facebook, which acquired the company in early 2014 for a massive $19 billion. Reporting on the departure of Koum from WhatsApp and Facebook, who follows his co-founder Brian Acton out of the door, the Washington Post claims the friction comes from Facebook's desire to weaken or remove the end-to-end encryption technology from the service in order to monitor and exploit its users' communications.

Koum, for his part, has not publicly commented on the report, stating only that his departure is for personal reasons. 'It's been almost a decade since Brian 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,' he writes in a Facebook post. 'I've been blessed to work with such an incredibly small team and see how a crazy amount of focus can produce an app used by so many people all over the world. I'm leaving at a time when people are using WhatsApp in more ways than I could have imagined. The team is stronger than ever and it'll continue to do amazing things. I'm taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee. And I'll still be cheering WhatsApp on – just from the outside. Thanks to everyone who has made this journey possible.'

Facebook has not commented publicly on Koum's departure nor on its reported desire to weaken WhatsApp's encryption capabilities, though company founder Mark Zuckerberg did comment on Koum's post to credit his knowledge of 'encryption and its ability to take power from centralised systems and put it back in people's hands', something Zuckerberg promised would 'always be at the heart of WhatsApp'.


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