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Facebook loses top product officer Chris Cox, Mark Zuckerberg’s confidant

Facebook loses top product officer Chris Cox, Mark Zuckerberg’s confidant
Chris Cox, shown in 2011, is leaving Facebook after 13 years at the company. (Kimihiro Hoshino / AFP-Getty Images)

Facebook Inc.’s top executive in charge of all products, Chris Cox, the longtime confidant of Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, is leaving the company. It’s the highest-level departure at the social media giant amid nearly two years of sustained crises.

Cox’s unexpected departure, which he and Zuckerberg announced in separate Facebook posts Thursday, comes months after Cox was promoted in a major reorganization. Last May, Cox was put in charge of Facebook’s “family of apps,” including Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook itself — which together have more than 2.7 billion users worldwide. These apps have been distinct until recently, when Zuckerberg announced plans to unify them under a banner of privacy.

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Chris Daniels — an executive who ran Internet.org, the company's philanthropic project to promote global internet access, and was recently promoted to lead WhatsApp — is leaving as well, Zuckerberg said.

Facebook will not appoint a direct replacement for Cox; rather, the leaders of each app will report to Zuckerberg. Longtime Facebook executive Will Cathcart will head WhatsApp.

“It is with great sadness I share with you that after thirteen years, I’ve decided to leave the company,” Cox wrote in his post. “Since I was twenty-three, I’ve poured myself into these walls. This place will forever be a part of me.” Cox didn’t offer any explanation for his departure.

In his blog post, Zuckerberg said that Cox had told him that he planned to move on several years ago, but that Cox decided to hold off on leaving until the company made more progress combating misinformation and Russian meddling — controversies that erupted in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

“We have made real progress on many issues and we have a clear plan for our apps,” Zuckerberg said in his post. “As we embark on this next major chapter, Chris has decided now is the time to step back from leading these teams.”

Cox, who dropped out of a Stanford University graduate program to work with Zuckerberg when the company had just 15 engineers, was widely seen as one of Facebook’s most popular and capable executives — and a potential replacement CEO, were Zuckerberg to leave. (Zuckerberg has said he has no plans to exit.)

Perhaps more than anyone else at Facebook, even more than Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Cox was a sounding board for Zuckerberg on product ideas. He launched Facebook's flagship scrolling news feed nearly a decade ago and ran human resources before he was promoted to run the Facebook app in 2014.

The announcements of Cox’s and Daniels’ exits come during a bumpy week for Facebook.

On Wednesday morning a global outage hit its services. Facebook announced Wednesday night that Instagram was back in service, and Thursday morning — about 24 hours after the problem began — it said that the issue had been caused by “a server configuration change” and that its systems were recovering.

During the outage, Facebook product director Rob Leathern said on Twitter that people were also unable to access the social network’s ad interfaces, which may exacerbate any lost revenue. The company also raised the possibility of issuing refunds to advertisers.

Compounding Facebook’s woes was a report about a federal criminal investigation into the company. The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported late Wednesday that a grand jury had issued subpoenas as part of an investigation into Facebook’s data-sharing deals.

In addition to facing multiple federal investigations over data privacy, Facebook is experiencing stagnating user growth in its most lucrative markets and a record-low reputation with the public.

Facebook stock fell 1.8% to close at $170.17 a share Thursday. After the executive departures were announced, the shares declined 1.7% in after-hours trading.

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The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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