EFF lawyer joins WhatsApp as privacy policy manager

In an effort to bolster its public credibility in the wake of a very rough year, Facebook is bringing a fierce former critic into the fold.

Next month, longtime Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) counsel Nate Cardozo will join WhatsApp, Facebook’s encrypted chat app. Cardozo most recently held the position of Senior Information Security Counsel with the EFF where he worked closely with the organization on cybersecurity policy. As his bio there reads, Cardozo is “an expert in technology law and civil liberties” and already works with private companies on privacy policies that protect user rights.

Cardozo announced the move in a post to Facebook on Tuesday:

Personal news!

After six and a half years at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), I’ll be leaving at the end of next week. I’m incredibly sad to be leaving such a great organization and I’ll miss my colleagues with all my heart.

Where to? Starting 2/19, I’ll be the Privacy Policy Manager for WhatsApp!! I could NOT be more excited.

If you know me at all, you’ll know this isn’t a move I’d make lightly. After the privacy beating Facebook’s taken over the last year, I was skeptical too. But the privacy team I’ll be joining knows me well, and knows exactly how I feel about tech policy, privacy, and encrypted messaging. And that’s who they want at managing privacy at WhatsApp. I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.

It’s going to be an enormous challenge professionally but I’m ready for it.

Though it also does more cooperative work with major tech companies, the EFF frequently finds itself on the opposite side of the ring. Cardozo’s own background reflects that adversarial relationship, and he certainly hasn’t minced words about his new employer. In a 2015 op-ed, Cardozo hit the nail on the head about Facebook’s lucrative habit of tracking its users’ every move.

“It’s creepy, but maybe you don’t care enough about a faceless corporation’s data mining to go out of your way to protect your privacy, and anyway you don’t have anything to hide,” Cardozo wrote. “Facebook counts on that; its business model depends on our collective confusion and apathy about privacy.”

Personally, we’d sleep ever so slightly better at night knowing that the guy who wrote the sentence “If a business model depends on deception and apathy, it deserves to fail” is trying a turn on the inside.

The cognitive dissonance of a well-regarded privacy advocate moving over to Facebook is notable, though not without precedent. For all its privacy blunders, Facebook does own the most popular digital messaging app in most countries around the world — an app it opts to keep end-to-end encrypted by default (so far, anyway).

As far as WhatsApp goes, Cardozo’s hiring comes at a critical time: Last week, The New York Times reported Facebook’s intention to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. The massive change has some security and privacy-minded people happy (more end-to-end encryption!) and plenty more worried about what else the integration will mean.

Leading into the change, Facebook would be smart to hire as many prominent voices in online privacy as it can attract. Public criticism of the company hasn’t waned exactly, but hiring critics is a straightforward way to build trust in the meantime. For a company not known for public dissent and open dialogue, Facebook’s critics may prove a valuable asset if they can be recruited for a tour of duty behind the big blue line.

Update: Cardozo isn’t alone in making the switch from privacy advocacy to Facebook. The company has also hired Robyn Greene from the Open Technology Institute. As she announced in a tweet, Greene will focus on law enforcement access and data protection in her new role with Facebook.