The co-founder of WhatsApp, the hugely popular encrypted messaging service owned by Facebook, has announced he is stepping down.
Jan Koum confirmed he was leaving WhatsApp on Monday, and said in a Facebook post he wanted to spend more time “collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee”.
Behind the scenes, however, he was reportedly battling Facebook managers over WhatsApp’s direction and attempts by its parent company to use personal data and potentially weaken its encryption.
According to The Washington Post, which reported the tensions, advertising and revenue generation from the free app also contributed to the conflict.
In the past WhatsApp’s management has fiercely opposed advertising, saying in 2012 they did not want it to be “just another ad clearinghouse” where engineers ”spend their day tuning data mining”.
Facebook bought the app for $19bn (£13.8bn) in 2014. WhatsApp runs no adverts, while Facebook’s enormous profits are powered almost entirely by advertising targeted to its users’ interests.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, commented on Mr Koum’s post and said he was grateful for “everything you’ve taught me, including about encryption and its ability to take power from centralised systems and put it back in people’s hands”.
“Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp”, he added.
Neither post addressed heightened alarm about Facebook’s data privacy safeguards spurred by the disclosure that up to 87 million Facebook users saw their personal data funnelled to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
The company’s executives have been trying to defuse questions from politicians in the US and UK about whether it can be trusted with the reams of personal information it collects to sell adverts, and whether its social network does more harm than good.
Mr Koum has spoken before about how the high premium he places on privacy, saying he was motivated to build a secure communication channel in part by his experience growing up in the Soviet Union during an era of ubiquitous surveillance.