Social shake-up: Chris Cox and WhatsApp VP Chris Daniels to leave Facebook

15 Mar 2019

From left: Chris Cox and Mark Zuckerberg. Image: Facebook

Key Facebook and WhatsApp leaders depart social media behemoth as Zuckerberg tightens his iron grip on the family of apps used by 2.3bn people.

A major leadership shake-up is underway at Facebook with one of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s longest-serving lieutenants, Chris Cox, leaving the company.

The head of WhatsApp, Chris Daniels, is also understood to be leaving the Facebook empire.

The moves bookend what has been a trying year for Facebook, beginning with the Cambridge Analytica scandal almost a year ago to the day, various breaches, blunders, summonses to Capitol Hill, and broader questions about the social media giant’s business practices and privacy values.

In recent weeks Zuckerberg signalled that Facebook is embarking on a privacy-first strategy.

The leaving of Cox and Daniels follows the departure in the past year of the founders of WhatsApp, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, as well as the founders of Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

One app to rule them all?

The departure of Cox in particular, after 13 years, raises eyebrows as he was seen as one of Zuckerberg’s most loyal lieutenants and, as chief product officer, was the key figurehead at major launch events.

It is understood that the role of chief product officer will not be filled by anyone immediately. Instead, what will happen is that the heads of Facebook’s various apps – including Facebook itself, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram – will report directly to Zuckerberg.

The new structure cements Zuckerberg’s iron grip on the stable of apps and fits neatly with his plans to merge them together. Zuckerberg, announcing the departures of Cox and Daniels, appeared to signal that the changes were driven in part by the reorganisation of Facebook into a privacy-focused platform.

“As part of this, I’m sad to share the news that Chris Cox has decided to leave the company. Chris and I have worked closely together to build our products for more than a decade and I will always appreciate his deep empathy for the people using our services and the uplifting spirit he brings to everything he does. He has played so many central roles at Facebook – starting as an engineer on our original News Feed, building our first HR teams and helping to define our mission and values, leading our product and design teams, running the Facebook app, and most recently overseeing the strategy for our family of apps.

“Along the way, Chris has helped train many great leaders who are now in important roles across the company – including some who will now take on bigger roles in our new product efforts,” Zuckerberg said.

The Facebook CEO said that he and Cox realised in 2016 that changes were needed and that Cox, who has ambitions to do new things, stayed on to help sort out those changes.

“We have made real progress on many issues and we have a clear plan for our apps, centred around making private messaging, stories and groups the foundation of the experience, including enabling encryption and interoperability across our services.”

Zuckerberg also credited Daniels as being “one of the clearest and most principled business thinkers” he’s ever met, and said he played an integral role in running WhatsApp’s business development team as well as getting to 100m users.

Under the new leadership structure, Will Cathcart has been appointed the new head of the WhatsApp app, Fidji Simo will be the new head of the Facebook app, and the integration of the various apps and their security will be led by Javier Olivan.

“We have so much important work ahead and I’m excited to continue working to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” Zuckerberg concluded.

After a trying year that gave the whole world a fundamental lesson in privacy and trust, it will be interesting to see how Zuckerberg proceeds with his privacy-first mission and the merging of all of these core apps into one single product.

There is no doubt that these challenges will present the biggest test of his mettle as a leader yet.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years