Facebook announced a significant reorganization of its leadership team a week after CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new privacy-first vision for a number of the company’s messaging products.
Zuckerberg announced on Thursday that Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, and Chris Daniels, the head of its messaging platform WhatsApp, would be leaving the company. Once called “Facebook’s most important executive not named Mark Zuckerberg,” Cox has been at the social network for more than 13 years, helping build the News Feed and the Facebook mobile app, while Daniels joined the company in 2011.
“Since I was twenty-three, I’ve poured myself into these walls,” Cox wrote on his personal Facebook page. “The pixels, the code, the products we’ve built together, the language, the culture, the values, the big ideas, and most of all, the people. Most all my personal highs and lows of the last decade have been tied up in the journey of this company.”
The departure of both men named Chris represents a dramatic change at the social network, which has faced multiple crises over the last year and had only recently reorganized its leadership structure last March. Last year, Cox was put in charge of all of Facebook’s apps, including WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, and the company’s eponymous app, while Daniels was named as vice president of WhatsApp in May.
One source familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed News that Cox’s departure was related to a disagreement over the company’s product direction. Last week, Zuckerberg announced a plan to combine all the company’s messaging apps while deploying end-to-end encryption across all the platforms. Another source, who is a former employee, told BuzzFeed News that when Zuckerberg entertained the idea of introducing encryption for all messaging services late last year, several executives scoffed at the idea and didn’t believe it could be done given the product changes and alterations to Facebook’s business model that would be required.
“As Mark has outlined, we are turning a new page in our product direction, focused on an encrypted, interoperable, messaging network,” Cox wrote. “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.”
Cox and Daniels did not immediately return a request for comment. Daniels has not posted anything on his personal Facebook about his departure.
One former employee described Daniels, who had been at the company for more than eight years, as “transient” within Facebook before being named as the head of WhatsApp. He held positions with various teams, including one responsible for extending Facebook’s reach by bringing internet to developing countries, thought that role "was perceived as a parking spot” by some of his peers.
“With WhatsApp, the belief was he’d be the key to integrating them — as he bleeds Facebook blue,” the person said of Daniel’s appointment to the role following the departure of WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum in April. “Guess not.”
Cox, who was considered part of Zuckerberg's inner circle, was liked by many employees, according to one employee, adding that he spoke at every new-hire orientation and had "incredible energy." Another former employee, suggested Cox's departure was the end of an era for Facebook given his influence over the company's most important product, news feed.
Cox was "one of a group of well-meaning people who made decisions in 2009 that aren’t applicable to 2019," that person said.
Cox and Daniels are just the latest big names to leave the company in the last 12 months. Koum left in April, while Instagram cofounders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger resigned abruptly in September.
Facebook named Will Cathcart as Daniels’ replacement at WhatsApp. Cathcart recently helped run the Facebook app, where Zuckerberg said “he has led our shift to focusing on meaningful social interactions and has significantly improved the performance and reliability of the app.” Facebook also announced the Fidji Simo will be the new head of the Facebook app. Zuckerberg noted that he had no immediate plans to replace Cox and that the heads of individual products, including WhatsApp, Instagram, and others, would report directly to him.
“This is an important change as we begin the next chapter of our work building the privacy-focused social foundation for the future,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I’m deeply grateful for everything Chris Cox and Chris Daniels have done here, and I’m looking forward to working with Will and Fidji in their new roles as well as everyone who will be critical to achieving this vision.”