Product Management - End to End Lifecycle Example

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WhatsApp Privacy Concerns

1/05/18 may well be a date we look back on in the future as a turning point. This was the date co-founder and CEO of WhatsApp Jan Koum resigned.


CEOs leave all the time, why is this any different?


Under Jan’s stewardship WhatsApp has been a huge advocate of user privacy and encryption. Even after being bought by Facebook in 2014 it has continued to champion user privacy. In 2016 they followed Signal’s lead by adding End-to-End encryption for all users across all platforms where their service is available.


Why is End-to-End Encryption significant?

End-to-End encryption works on the basis of only the sender and receiver having the ‘key’ to decrypt and unscramble the message. This is means no one apart from the receiver can read the message, this includes; WhatApp/Facebook/Governments/ISPs & hackers.


The importance of this in a time when user privacy is being challenged and belittled everyday cannot be understated.


The importance of this in a time when user privacy is being challenged and belittled everyday cannot be understated.

Why has he resigned?

Whilst anybody is free to leave their job, the timing provides more questions than answers.


The recent revelations of Facebook’s cavalier attitude towards user privacy has landed it with demands to appear in-front of both US & UK governments. (US Congress & UK Parliament)


There have also been reports that Facebook has been putting significant internal pressure on WhatsApp to reduce certain aspects of its encryption & privacy policies. This is with the aim of integrating it into Facebook’s other services and possibly monetising it. (NY Times)


Its also been reported that this announcement has come 4 Years and 1 month from the purchase date by Facebook. This likely means any contractual obligations and stock vesting agreements have been completed. Thus Jan is now free to leave without losing out financially or risking any legal complications. (The Verge)


What does this all mean?

Well it depends who’s viewpoint you share.


With the most vocal and influential privacy advocate at WhatsApp and arguably Facebook now gone, it means less internal debate for the support of user privacy and data rights. Whilst we wont see any changes for a while. It wouldn’t surprise me within the next 6 months, either more senior WhatsApp people voice there concerns or leave, or the terms of service change and WhatsApp joins the Facebook family more closely. With fewer people to resist the desires of Mark Zuckerberg, change may be inevitable.


With fewer people to resist the desires of Mark Zuckerberg, change may be inevitable.

However if you are someone who heavily uses Facebook’s services, this may present an opportunity for you to gain. Through better integration with Facebook, new services which are cross platform may emerge such as; FB & WhatsApp joint messaging, creation & usage of FB Events / FB AI functionality and in-messaging purchases.


What do I think of this?

Here we have an individual who has worked tirelessly for over a decade building a platform which is used by billions of people everyday. If he wishes to take a break and enjoy the reward he has earned then good for him, he’s earned it.


There is also a wider societal problem here. Its been regularly pointed out that he is a privacy advocate, to the point where his views seem the exception not the norm. We have reached a point where the average user is either not concerned about their privacy or feel they can’t do anything about it.


To me this is the most troubling aspect, we must all take care of our personal data and not rely on a few to fight our battles for us.


Jack

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