A message to WhatsApp founder Jan Koum

Jan Koum, the other co-founder and former CEO of WhatsApp, is leaving Facebook. His former colleague Brian Acton did the same a few months ago.

Judging from the media reports about Koum’s parting with Facebook, it seems that a long-standing disagreement of Koum and Acton with Facebook’s core values in regards to the collection of user data and ad monetization is one (or the) reason why both are moving on. Acton even went so far as to embrace the tiny #deletefacebook movement (which has little chances of success).

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Their disagreement with the Facebook way of doing things is understandable. But it also seems hypocritical. What were they thinking when they sold WhatsApp for $19 Billion to Facebook in 2014? Were they really that naive to assume that Facebook would forever keep its hands off of WhatsApp?! These two are very intelligent people. It appears absurd to even pretend this.

Much more likely is this: They wanted the money (can’t blame them), gave up on their principles but were uncomfortable enough with their own decision to keep telling themselves and the public that they’d protect WhatsApp no matter what (while silently knowing that this would be impossible).

Now, that both left Facebook, for whatever Facebook now will do to WhatsApp, Koum and Acton will blame Facebook and insist that they were against it.

If one wants to be harsh, one would have to accuse Koum and Acton of being sell-outs, of being dishonest to themselves and the users of WhatsApp, and of having strengthened Facebook’s already deeply troubling dominance on the web.

But, one could also show empathy for their decision to sell (who would reject such an offer?) and encourage them now to make use of their Billions earned from the Facebook deal to fight Facebook’s dominance. In fact, if they are as principled as they have claimed to be over the past years, they actually do have that moral obligation.

To be fair, Brian Acton has already started — not only by backing the #deletefacebook movement, but also by investing in and supporting the developer of secure messaging technology, Signal.

Now it is time for Jan Koum to do the same.

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