Chris Daniels, vice president of Facebook’s Internet.org, will replace Jan Koum as the boss of WhatsApp. Koum, CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp, resigned last week, allegedly after clashing with top Facebook management over the company’s new privacy policies for WhatsApp users.
After Koum’s resignation, there was talk that WhatsApp chief business officer Neeraj Arora will replace him. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, in the new Facebook executive reshuffle, the command of WhatsApp has gone to Daniels. While Arora has an obvious Indian connection (he is from India and he studied at IIT Delhi). Daniels too has a big India link, something that he probably won’t remember fondly. Daniels is running internet.org, Facebook’s effort to bring free internet to unconnected parts of the world, since 2014.
Daniels holds a good amount of experience working in areas with poor internet infrastructure, due to his association with internet.org and this could be one of the reasons why he has been chosen to head WhatsApp.
While Daniels has been working with Facebook for over seven years now, his one of the biggest roles at Facebook involves running internet.org initiative. The internet.org project promised free internet to millions of people but at the same time also ran in conflict with the regulators who called it a violation of net neutrality. In fact, India in 2014 was the key market where Facebook pushed internet.org but then lost the fight due to its violation of net neutrality. Internet.org was rechristened as Free Basics to make the idea sell in India. But that too didn’t work.
Before he lost the fight in India, Daniels did give it his best. He argued Free Basics was pro-poor. “These are the people who simply live outside of the range of a mobile data network. The second barrier was awareness. People are simply not aware of why the internet is valuable to their lives. The third is affordability. These are simply people who cannot afford the internet. Internet.org is really looking to tackle all three of those barriers,” he had told in an interview to ET.
After losing the fight in India, Facebook pushed Free Basics in some other Asian countries that didn’t object to it. The whole project was again spearheaded by Daniels. Free Basics became big in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Philippines. But several years down the road, the world is learning that Free Basics and access to Facebook that it provides has actually helped hatred spread faster in countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Currently, WhatsApp too is facing similar issues. Even in India, which is a huge Whatsapp market, the app is often used to spread fake news and sensational messages. But let’s hope Daniels will do a better job of steering WhatsApp clear of the challenges it faces in future.
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