Facebook wants to further expand the privacy capabilities of WhatsApp messages, giving users the ability to encrypt backups of messages, adding another layer of security to their private communication via WhatsApp.
Currently, all WhatsApp messages are encrypted end-to-end by default, which has become a key value proposition for the app amid growing concerns about digital data paths and privacy.
This will soon be extended to your data history – as explained in WhatsApp:
“People can already back up their WhatsApp message history via cloud-based services like Google Drive and iCloud. WhatsApp does not have access to these backups, and they are provided by individual cloud storage services. But now, if people choose to enable end-to-end encrypted backups (E2EE), neither WhatsApp nor the backup provider will be able to access their backup or backup encryption key. ”
The update did not violate WhatsApp’s long-standing approach to privacy, and only concerned communication between individuals and companies on WhatsApp, and as a consequence, later targeting of outreach. But still, the reaction was significant enough for WhatsApp to delay the change to better explain, and Facebook executives embarked on PR to stop the tide of users wanting to leave the platform.
We don’t know how much controversy has actually affected the use of WhatsApp, we don’t know, but definitely, WhatsApp could use a new feature like this to strengthen its privacy attitude and underline to its users that no one can access their private messages, even those within WhatsApp itself.
Functionally, the ability to encrypt backups of your message probably doesn’t add much to ordinary users. But again, as TechCrunch noted, access to WhatsApp chat data by bypassing third parties has so far been the only way for governments and law enforcement agencies to peek into the WhatsApp network.
“Using these unencrypted backups of WhatsApp chats on Google and Apple servers is one of the widely known ways law enforcement agencies around the world have been able to access WhatsApp chats of suspects for years.”
In other words, current backup options, which rely on third parties, reduce the overall security of WhatsApp chats, a hole that Facebook is now closing. Which will also undoubtedly cause difficulties in various organizations that have expressed their opposition to Facebook to further lock down its messaging systems.
Back In October 2019, representatives from USA, UK and Australia co-signed an open letter to Facebook urging the company to drop its full message encryption plans, claiming that it would:
“… endanger our citizens and societies by seriously diminishing their ability to detect and respond to illegal content and activities, such as sexual exploitation and child abuse, terrorism and attempts by foreign opponents to undermine democratic values and institutions, preventing the prosecution of offenders and the custody of victims. “
The governments of each region have asked Facebook to at least provide ‘backdoor access’ for official investigations, which Facebook has repeatedly refused.
This is what has prompted the authorities to seek alternative means, such as eavesdropping on third-party backups, given that Facebook is now trying to stop it as well, there could be a new strengthening of opposition to Facebook’s plans and repeated calls for restrictions on the same.
A key focus of concern in this regard is the potential of such options to protect child traffickers, with National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children arguing that any move to further restrict access to such law enforcement agencies increases the potential for use of these platforms among groups of perpetrators.
According to NSPCC Executive Director Peter Wanless:
“Private messages are at the forefront of child sexual abuse, but the current debate over end-to-end encryption risks leaving children unprotected where there is the most harm.”
This is currently the most convincing and most important argument against the move. By providing full encryption in all its messaging applications, Facebook will basically hide all communication between predators and those who would try to use such systems to exploit children, which could then lead to the expansion of such activity.
Yet at the same time, the broader incentive to increase online privacy continues to gain momentum, and people are looking for options to protect their private communications from outside scrutiny.
It’s a complex balance and there’s compelling logic on both sides, but in any case Facebook seems to be making progress, with the company repeatedly mentioning moving towards integrating all of its messaging tools (Messenger, Instagram Direct and WhatsApp) and adding more encryption options on all boards.
There is no definitive right answer here, but it is interesting to note the ongoing debate that could eventually force Facebook to change course or change its approach if regulators from one of its main areas of use decide to make the final move.
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