Instant messaging app has updated and notified all of its billion users that every text and voice call is now protected with strong encryption. Thus, all chats made through WhatsApp will be outside the purview of authorities.
This is a very bold move from WhatsApp, especially given the recent fight of tech giants with authorities over user data privacy. Just a few days ago, the FBI dropped a court battle with Apple where it asked to help it break into the iPhone of one of San Bernardino shooters. Earlier, Brazilian police arrested Facebook vice-president for Latin America because WhatsApp refused to provide messages sent by a criminal suspect.
Now all of one billion WhatsApp users will send and receive messages, attachments and voice calls that can only be decrypted by the intended recipient. In other words, WhatsApp won’t be able to learn or disclose the contents of users’ messages, even if forced by the court. Perhaps, WhatsApp will be able to find out when the WhatsApp is used and what are the parties in conversation.
The most interesting part is that the company will notify users if messages are encrypted: in case several users are communicating in a group chat and one of them is running an older version of WhatsApp that doesn’t support encrypted group messages, the system will notify who of the users causes the session to remain unencrypted.
3 years after Edward Snowden’s revelations made consumers think about data security as an important issue when choosing a tool for communication. For example, Telegram, a Berlin-based messaging service created by the founder of Russian Facebook (Vkontakte) also offers privacy features. At the same time, Google and Snapchat are exploring their own encrypted messaging services.
Industry watchers remind that the instant messaging app started adding strong encryption by default more than a year ago, but it only worked for text messages sent from certain phones or in certain situations. Besides, users did not know if their communications were encrypted. Over the last year and a half, WhatsApp has been expanding encryption throughout its service. The Facebook-owned company acknowledged the controversy around encryption but downplayed any political implications.