WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quits Facebook due to privacy intrusions

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quits Facebook due to privacy intrusions

“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,” WhatsApp co-founder, CEO and Facebook board member Jan Koum wrote today. The announcement followed shortly after The Washington Post reported that Koum would leave due to disagreements with Facebook management about WhatsApp user data privacy and weakened encryption. Koum obscured that motive in his note that says, “I’ll still be cheering WhatsApp on – just from the outside.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly commented on Koum’s Facebook post about his departure, writing “Jan: I will miss working so closely with you. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done to help connect the world, and for everything you’ve taught me, including about encryption and its ability to take power from centralized systems and put it back in people’s hands. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp.” That comment further tries to downplay the idea that Facebook pushed Koum away by trying to erode encryption.

The move comes 3.5 years after WhatsApp’s acquisition, meaning Koum may have vested much of his stock and have fewer financial incentives to stay. It’s currently unclear what will happen to Koum’s Facebook board seat that WashPo says he’ll vacate, or who will replace him as WhatsApp’s CEO.

One possible candidate for the CEO role would be WhatsApp business executive Neeraj Arora, a former Google corporate development manager who’s been with WhatsApp since 2011 — well before the Facebook acquisition. A source described him as the #4 at WhatsApp.

Values misaligned

Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for a jaw-dropping $19 billion. But since then it’s more than tripled its user count to 1.5 billion, making the price to turn messaging into a one-horse race seem like a steal. But at the time, Koum and co-founder Brian Acton were assured that WhatsApp wouldn’t have to run ads or merge its data with Facebook’s. So were regulators in Europe, where WhatsApp is most popular.

A year and a half later, though, Facebook pressured WhatsApp to change its terms of service and give users’ phone numbers to its parent company. That let Facebook target those users with more precise advertising, such as by letting businesses upload lists of phone numbers to hit those people with promotions. Facebook was eventually fined $122 million by the European Union in 2017 — a paltry sum for a company earning more than $4 billion in profit per quarter.

But the perceived invasion of WhatsApp user privacy drove a wedge between Koum and the parent company well before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. A source confirms that Koum had been considering leaving for a year. Acton left Facebook in November, and has publicly supported the #DeleteFacebook movement since.

WashPo writes that Koum was also angered by Facebook executives pushing for a weakening of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption in order to facilitate its new WhatsApp For Business program. It’s possible that letting multiple team members from a business all interact with its WhatsApp account could be incompatible with strong encryption. Facebook plans to finally make money off WhatsApp by offering bonus services to big companies like airlines, e-commerce sites and banks that want to conduct commerce over the chat app.

Jan Koum (Photo: TOBIAS HASE/AFP/Getty Images)

Koum was heavily critical of advertising in apps, once telling Forbes that “Dealing with ads is depressing . . . You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better.” He vowed to keep them out of WhatsApp. But over the past year, Facebook has rolled out display ads in the Messenger inbox. Without Koum around, Facebook might push to expand those obtrusive ads to WhatsApp as well.

The high-profile departure comes at a vulnerable time for Facebook, with its big F8 developer conference starting tomorrow despite Facebook simultaneously shutting down parts of its dev platform as penance for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Meanwhile, Google is trying to fix its fragmented messaging strategy, ditching apps like Allo to focus on a mobile carrier-backed alternative to SMS it’s building into Android Messages.

While the News Feed made Facebook rich, it also made it the villain. Messaging has become its strongest suit thanks to the dual dominance of Messenger and WhatsApp. Considering many users surely don’t even realize WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, Koum’s departure over policy concerns isn’t likely to change that. But it’s one more point in what’s becoming a thick line connecting Facebook’s business ambitions to its cavalier approach to privacy.

You can read Koum’s full post below.

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It's been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it's been an amazing journey with some of the best…

Posted by Jan Koum on Monday, April 30, 2018

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Chinese government admits collection of deleted WeChat messages

Chinese government admits collection of deleted WeChat messages

Chinese authorities revealed over the weekend that they have the capability of retrieving deleted messages from the almost universally used WeChat app. The admission doesn’t come as a surprise to many, but it’s rare for this type of questionable data collection tactic to be acknowledged publicly.

As noted by the South China Morning Post, an anti-corruption commission in Hefei province posted Saturday to social media that it has “retrieved a series of deleted WeChat conversations from a subject” as part of an investigation.

The post was deleted Sunday, but not before many had seen it and understood the ramifications. Tencent, which operates the WeChat service used by nearly a billion people (including myself), explained in a statement that “WeChat does not store any chat histories — they are only stored on users’ phones and computers.”

The technical details of this storage were not disclosed, but it seems clear from the commission’s post that they are accessible in some way to interested authorities, as many have suspected for years. The app does, of course, comply with other government requirements, such as censoring certain topics.

There are still plenty of questions, the answers to which would help explain user vulnerability: Are messages effectively encrypted at rest? Does retrieval require the user’s password and login, or can it be forced with a “master key” or backdoor? Can users permanently and totally delete messages on the WeChat platform at all?

Fears over Chinese government access to data held or handled by Chinese companies has led to a global backlash against those companies, including some countries (including the U.S.) banning Chinese-made devices and services from sensitive applications or official use altogether.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

T-Mobile and Sprint have finally announced a merger agreement

T-Mobile and Sprint have finally announced a merger agreement

Sprint and T-Mobile, after years of going back and forth as to whether they are going to tie up two of the largest telecom providers in the U.S., have announced that the two companies have entered a merger agreement this morning.

The merger will be an all-stock transaction, and will now be subject to regulatory approval. That latter part is going to be its biggest challenge, because it will not only tie up the No. 3 and No. 4 carriers into the U.S. into a single unit, but also that international organizations hold significant stakes in both companies. SoftBank controls a majority of Sprint while Deutsche Telekom controls a significant chunk of T-Mobile. Following the administration’s intervention in the Broadcom-Qualcomm takeover attempt, it isn’t clear what will actually go through in terms of major mergers these days.

Bloomberg is reporting that Deutsche Telekom will have 42% ownership of the combined company, while SoftBank will own around 27% of the company.

As expected, the argument here is for the expansion of 5G networks as plans for that start to ramp up. T-Mobile argues in its announcement that it will help it be competitive with AT&T and Verizon as telecom companies start to roll out a next-generation 5G network, though it does in the end remove a carrier choice for end consumers in the U.S..

“The New T-Mobile will have the network capacity to rapidly create a nationwide 5G network with the breadth and depth needed to enable U.S. firms and entrepreneurs to continue to lead the world in the coming 5G era, as U.S. companies did in 4G,” T-Mobile said in a statement as part of the announcement. “The new company will be able to light up a broad and deep 5G network faster than either company could separately. T-Mobile deployed nationwide LTE twice as fast as Verizon and three times faster than AT&T, and the combined company is positioned to do the same in 5G with deep spectrum assets and network capacity.”

Both companies appeared to be finalizing the deal on Friday, when they set valuation terms and were preparing to announce the merger today. The deal values Sprint at an enterprise value of around $59 billion, with the combined company having an enterprise value of $146 billion. AT&T has a market cap of around $214 billion, while Verizon has a market cap of around $213 billion, as of Sunday.

The transaction, the companies said, is of course subject to regulatory approval. But, pending approval, it is expected to close “no later than the first half of 2019.”

Disclosure: Verizon is the parent company of Oath, which owns TechCrunch.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Is the world ready for the return of the PDA?

Is the world ready for the return of the PDA?

I want to live in the Gemini’s universe. It’s one where the promise of on-demand hardware has been fulfilled. Where crowfunding, rapid prototyping, scalable manufacturing all of those good things have improved our lives by giving us the devices we both want and need. It’s the utopian dream of 2011, fully realized.

In the Gemini universe, the PDA never went away. It simply adapted. All of those irritated anti-touch typers had nothing to complain about. Sure, the iPhone still moved a billion units, because Apple, but the physical keyboard simply evolved alongside it, because tech should adapt to people and not the other way around.

Of course, the realities of technological Darwinism are much darker, and every half decade or so, there’s an extinction-level event, and Apple’s smartphone hit the earth like football field-sized asteroid covered in the bubonic plague. Over the past 10 years, many have and tried and all have failed to address the shrinking, but vocal niche of consumers bemoaning the death of the physical keyboard.

Many of us, myself included, fell in love with the Gemini at first sight when we spotted it across the room at CES. It wasn’t the hardware or the execution, so much as the idea. And, of course, we weren’t alone. When an astonishing 6,200 people came together to pledge $2.2 million on Indiegogo to help bring it to life, it was clear London-based Planet Computers had struck a chord.

And with both Nokia and BlackBerry having waged comebacks of sorts (albeit through licensing deals), it seems the iPhone’s 10th anniversary has been the perfect time to revel in a bit of mobile nostalgia. People have gone utterly gaga over the 3310 — clearly there must also be space in amongst this smartphone fatigue where a PDA can positively flourish.

In one sense, it almost didn’t matter what the final hardware looked like, this felt like a kind of bellwether. But in a larger and more important sense, of course it did. When it comes to consumer electronics, people don’t buy ideas, they by hardware. And in the cold, harsh light of day, the Gemini is a far more exciting concept that it is an actual product.

The product is a return of sorts for the Psion 5, with some of that clamshell’s designs back on board. And indeed, the device takes more than a few design cues from that 20-plus-year-old piece of hardware. The build itself is a bit of a mixed bag, here. It’s solid, but the clamshell ensures that it’s big and bulky, compared to standard smartphones with similarly sized screens (5.9-inch).

It’s not much to look at from the outside, with a plain metal casing, through there are some innovative touches here, including a break in the top that can be plied open to access the device’s innards, using compatible tools. The lid flips open, with a nice, satisfying motion, but screen’s hinge feels loose, moving each time you interact with the touchscreen. It would have also been nice to have the display open at different angles, but there are only two positions here: opened and closed.

As for typing, well, if you’re among the vast majority of mobile users have made the leap to touchscreen typing, you’re going to have to unlearn those skills. My own typing on the keyboard is nowhere close to what I’m able to achieve on a touchscreen these days. For a few fleeting moments, I entertained the idea of writing this review on the thing, but almost immediately backed down, when I found it difficult to type even a sentence right the first time.

The device’s size makes for an extremely cramped keyboard, in which many of the keys have to do double duty. But the width and girth of the device itself means there aren’t too many scenarios in which using the keyboard make a whole lot of sense. Attempting to type while holding it feels like an almost acrobatic feat. Really, a flat surface, like a desk, is your best bet, at which point you’re left wondering why you didn’t simply shell out the money for a real laptop. The ability to dual-boot Linux and the inclusion of a healthy 64GB of storage are interesting cases for the product as more of a small computer than a massive phone, that, of course, is ultimately hampered by the small display with smartphone dimensions.

That gets at what is perhaps a larger issue here. It’s unclear which problems the device is looking to solve in a world of ubiquitous slate phones and low-cost laptops and tablets. There aren’t ultimately all that many scenarios in which the throwback makes more sense than the hundreds of other available options, so it’s hard to recommend this as either a primary phone or laptop in 2018.

Perhaps many of its issues can be chalked up to first-generation hardware issues. There’s a lot to be said for the mere fact that the company was able to deliver a product in the first place. The Gemini certainly works as a compelling niche device, and it would be great to see Planet explore this idea further.

Anything that frees us from the oppression of nearly identical handsets is a victory in and of itself. As I said earlier, I want to live a world where devices like the Gemini can peacefully coexist with more mainstream devices. I just won’t be using it as my phone any time soon.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch