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WhatsApp founder leaves Facebook amid data privacy scandal

Tim Maytom

With Facebook still facing questions over the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the extent to which user data is available to third parties, Jan Koum, CEO of WhatsApp, has announced that he will be departing the firm.

Koum, who co-founded WhatsApp with Brian Acton, leaves just hours ahead of Facebook's annual F8 Conference where CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to speak, and puts the embattled executive in an awkward position.

According to The Washington Post, Koum's departure will also see him resigning from Facebook's board of directors, and may be in part due to a growing rift with Facebook management over WhatsApp's dedication to user privacy.

Despite the recent controversies surrounding the firm's use of customer data, elements within Facebook management are reportedly unhappy with WhatsApp's use of encryption technology for all messages, meaning that content cannot be analysed for targeting purposes. Given that WhatsApp also doesn't run any advertising, the unit remains a strangely un-monetised arm of Facebook's empire.

Koum's public statement on his departure made no mention of differing approaches to the business, however. He praised the team behind the app, and said that he was "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".

WhatsApp's other founder, Brian Acton, departed the firm in September 2017, and in February of this year partnered with Moxie Marlinspike to launch the Signal Foundation, a non-profit focused on open source privacy technology.

WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19bn (£13.9bn), and despite hitting 1bn daily users back in July 2017, there is still little sign of how Facebook plans to make back the money it spent on the platform. Both Koum and Acton publically expressed an aversion to allowing ads on their service, and in a blog post following the acquisition, Koum wrote that the deal would not have happened if WhatsApp "had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product".