A red flag in a Facebook exec's goodbye letter shows there's bad blood over Mark Zuckerberg's radical privacy plan

  • Facebook on Thursday announced that its chief product officer, Chris Cox, and Chris Daniels, the head of WhatsApp, were leaving the company.
  • A telling line in Cox’s goodbye letter suggests there were significant disagreements over Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to pivot Facebook to privacy.
  • This was backed up by a report in The New York Times, which said there were frustrations over Zuckerberg’s vision for the company.

Facebook sprang a surprise Thursday when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that another of his key lieutenants was leaving the company.

Following the departure of senior executives such as the Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Zuckerberg said the company’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, was headed for the door after 13 years. Chris Daniels, the head of WhatsApp, is also leaving.

Soon after everything was official, Cox published his goodbye letter to staff on his Facebook page. On first read, it’s an ode to his good times at the company, in which he praises the senior management team and calls Zuckerberg a “dear friend.”

In the comments below, there are glowing tributes from Zuckerberg (“It’s been an honour and I’m deeply grateful”), Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg (“We are a better company for what you have given”), and the company’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer (“I’ll deeply miss seeing you”).

Read more: Mark Zuckerberg says his vision to divide Facebook’s products in 2 could put its $US56 billion business model at risk

But there’s a telling line in Cox’s letter signalling disagreements over the direction Zuckerberg is taking Facebook – namely, its pivot to privacy and encryption, which the CEO set out in a manifesto last week.

Here’s the key part of Cox’s note:

“As Mark has outlined, we are turning a new page in our product direction, focused on an encrypted, interoperable, messaging network.

“It’s a product vision attuned to the subject matter of today: a modern communications platform that balances expression, safety, security, and privacy.

“This will be a big project and we will need leaders who are excited to see the new direction through.”

This final sentence is revealing. Saying that Zuckerberg’s vision will need people who believe in the direction of travel implies that Cox is not among them.

Indeed, The New York Times reports that there were “disagreements” over Zuckerberg’s plan, which in essence will combine the back ends of WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram messaging to create an interoperable messaging service, protected by end-to-end encryption.

Citing six sources, The Times reported that Cox “disagreed with some of Mr. Zuckerberg’s product ideas and changes, including the ‘unified messaging’ project intended to connect the apps.”

This was echoed by Ben Horowitz, the cofounder of the influential Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Horowitz’s partner, Marc Andreessen, is a Facebook board member.

Horowitz tweeted that the departures of Cox and Daniels showed there was “extremely strong dissent” over Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook. He added that it’s a huge change of direction and that it “is quite clear that the decision was massively controversial.”

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