It is all coming down. Fast.
Less than 24 hours after Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp, left Facebook, David Marcus, the company’s vice-president of messaging products, announced the inevitable at Facebook’s annual F8 Developers conference. “As far as advertising is concerned, we’re definitely getting WhatsApp more open,” Marcus told CNBC. He added, “We’re now going to have the ability to enable larger companies, not only small businesses, to integrate a new API to send and receive messages with people on the WhatsApp platform.” This was echoed by a Tuesday note by Barclays analysts, who wrote, “We have been told by many of our checks over the last few years that ‘once Jan leaves, that’s when the ads show up.”
That would be: now. The circumstances of Koum’s departure were detailed in a Washington Post report, which hinted at broad clashes between the founders and Facebook, over the latter’s attempts to use personal data, weaken encryption and open WhatsApp up to more advertising from businesses. This is what Koum feared, foresaw and resisted. Repeatedly, and with utmost defiance. And ultimately, he, too, gave up. Koum also resigned from Facebook’s board of directors. He was seen by many as the only staunch “privacy advocate” on the board, besides Marc Andreessen. Not without irony, in a Facebook post, Koum said: “It is time for me to move on…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.”
Closer home, the report added that the founders also clashed with Facebook “over building a mobile payments system on WhatsApp in India.” Last year, The Ken was the first to report WhatsApp’s payment plans for India. Koum’s departure comes eight months after WhatsApp’s other co-founder Brian Acton quit the company. In February, Acton invested $50 million in Signal Foundation, while also serving as its executive chairman. Acton refused to comment for this story.
Facebook insiders, both in India and at the company’s headquarters say that Koum’s departure had nothing to do with all of this, but it was “planned”.
“It was inevitable,” says a source aware of the developments within WhatsApp. “It wasn’t much of a surprise, especially after Acton left the company,” he adds. While Acton’s exit may have played a role in Koum’s eventual departure, as sources suggest, it may not have been as decisive. The seeds of these problems were sown in August 2016. When Facebook quietly changed WhatsApp’s terms of service, to allow sharing of metadata, which included details like the user’s phone number, along with the details of the device used by the user.