Mark Zuckerberg is pushing ahead with plans to integrate Facebook’s trio of apps — even if it costs him a key member of his inner circle.
The Facebook chief executive wrote in a blog post on Thursday that two of the social network’s top bosses were leaving the company, less than a year after being promoted to their roles.
The resignations of Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, and Chris Daniels, head of WhatsApp, were widely seen as early signs of a backlash against Mr Zuckerberg’s new “privacy-focused” vision for the world’s largest social network, and sent Facebook shares down more than 4 per cent.
Mr Cox, the “number three” in command at Facebook after Mr Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, was well-liked within the company, having joined in 2005 as one of its first software engineers. He played an instrumental role in building the company, helping to develop the news feed feature.
Mr Daniels became vice-president of WhatsApp in May last year, having held multiple roles within Facebook, ranging from business development to partnerships, since 2011.
The high-profile departures come just one week after Mr Zuckerberg used a 3,200-word blog post to pin Facebook’s future on products focused on privacy and control for its users.
As part of the change, the group plans to integrate the messaging services of Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook into one encrypted system, meaning only people sending and receiving messages will be able to view them.
The move has divided analysts. Some say it is part of a push to find new sources of revenue at a time when sales growth is slowing in developed markets. But others see it as a more radical attempt to knit the three apps more closely together as antitrust regulators threaten to break them apart.
In his latest blog post on Thursday, announcing Mr Cox and Mr Daniels’ departures, Mr Zuckerberg wrote: “Embarking on this new vision represents the start of a new chapter for us.”
In his own Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Cox did not explicitly outline why he was leaving. But he said the shift to a single encrypted messaging system was a “big project [that] will need leaders who are excited to see the new direction through”.
One former Facebook executive described the move as a “big principled departure” by Mr Cox.
“It is far too soon after the last giant product [reorganisation] to believe this was a planned transition . . . It potentially means Mark has not really thought through the privacy manifesto,” the person said.
Others pointed to the range of lawsuits and regulatory disputes that Facebook is facing following last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, which Jason Kint, chief executive officer of Digital Content Next, a US trade association for online publishers, said was “absolutely taxing on a company and its culture”.
“There’s a lot of signs that [Chris Cox’s departure] is not just about a difference in product strategy,” he added.
The latest upheaval caps a turbulent week for Facebook, during which it suffered the longest mass outage of its apps in its history and was accused by UK regulators of stifling competition. It also emerged that prosecutors in New York had opened a criminal probe into the social network over its historic data-sharing partnerships with other big technology companies.
Nevertheless, industry experts say the shake-up is an indication that Mr Zuckerberg is consolidating power across the platforms and will doggedly see through his vision, even if it means losing trusted lieutenants.
Mr Zuckerberg has said he is not immediately appointing anyone to replace Mr Cox — meaning the heads of the company’s main apps will now report directly to him.
Will Cathcart will be the new head of WhatsApp, having previously run the Facebook app, which will now be headed up Fidji Simo. Javier Olivan, who had led the apps strategy jointly with Mr Cox, has now been appointed specifically to identify how the apps “should be more integrated”.
Brian Wieser, president of business intelligence at GroupM, said: “There’s a signal clearly that [Mr Zuckerberg] still takes ownership of the business. [This is] the centralising of the product people under Mark.”
Ben Horowitz, a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz — Andreessen Horowitz co-founder Marc Andreessen sits on Facebook’s board — said on Twitter: “Love him or hate him, Mark Zuckerberg is demonstrating . . . he has the courage to do what he thinks is right in the face of extremely strong dissent.”
The approach is characteristic of Mr Zuckerberg’s leadership to date, which has already cost him a handful of other senior executives.
Both the founders of Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and those of WhatsApp, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, have left Facebook in the past 18 months, following clashes over the direction of the apps and debates about how to monetise them.
When Facebook bought Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014, respectively, it indicated that both apps would remain fairly independent from their parent company. However, according to people familiar with the situation, Mr Zuckerberg later ramped up pressure on the companies to integrate with Facebook proper.
Industry insiders warn that Mr Zuckerberg’s leadership strategy could backfire, especially after Mr Cox has left the social network’s inner circle.
“[Mr] Cox was one of the very few people to challenge Mark and take bets on big ideas,” the former Facebook executive said. “The remaining group is much more agreeable to just do what Zuck thinks is right — even when he’s not.”
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler in San Francisco
Facebook’s turbulent week
Friday March 8
US senator Elizabeth Warren vows to break up the country’s biggest technology companies, including Facebook, if she is elected president in 2020
Tuesday March 12
A UK government-commissioned report says Facebook and other tech giants are using their dominance over digital services to stifle competition and unfairly boost their profits
Wednesday March 13
Facebook suffers the longest mass outage in its history, as certain features on the platform, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp, went down for many users worldwide. Services were restored on Thursday, with the company blaming a “server configuration change” for the disruption
The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors in New York are pursuing a criminal investigation into data deals between Facebook and other large technology companies
Thursday March 14
Mr Zuckerberg writes in a blog post that Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, is leaving the company “to do something else”. He also announces the departure of Chris Daniels, head of WhatsApp
Friday March 15
Questions are raised about Facebook’s ability to contain the spread of violent imagery after footage from Friday’s mass shooting in New Zealand was livestreamed by one of the alleged killers