This storm was massive: at the beginning of the year, the news made the rounds that Whatsapp was planning to introduce new data protection rules. And indeed: all of a sudden, users of the messaging service were asked if they wanted to agree to the new guidelines. They were given a choice: either to accept – or to fly. Then Whatsapp had to backtrack and delay the introduction of the new rules for three months.
A few months have passed since then – and Whatsapp dares to attack. The service now reaffirms its commitment to full encryption and promising new privacy protection functionality. This includes the ability to send messages that the recipient can only view once. It could be useful, for example, if you have to send a password to family members, says Whatsapp head Will Cathcart.
Chats will be gone
You can also set that chats disappear on their own after a certain period of time. “In general, people don’t want their messages to last forever,” Cathcart emphasized. “When we talk, we don’t have a recording device with us. So it is strange that digital chat platforms are saving them forever.”
The company, which is part of Facebook, launched an advertising campaign on Monday about data protection in Germany and the United Kingdom, two of its most important markets. The short promotional videos confirm that content sent on WhatsApp is basically visible only in clear text to the respective users thanks to what is called end-to-end encryption.
New data protection rules are largely acceptable
Whatsapp has more than two billion users. However, in the past few months after the new rules of use were announced, the service has had to contend with criticism and a huge number of users. The impetus was the assessment that with the update that went into effect in mid-May, more data should be shared with parent company Facebook. Whatsapp has dismissed this as a misunderstanding and has repeatedly emphasized that end-to-end encryption, with which the service itself cannot access content, will not be compromised.
Whatsapp Cathcart chief admitted there were errors in announcing the new rules. “We have to communicate clearly what we’re doing and why.” Whatsapp missed this. “It only became clearer when we saw the confusion. It’s our responsibility,” Cathcart said. Whatsapp planned an ad campaign for end-to-end encryption in advance. But after the controversy of the past few months, Whatsapp has more reasons to talk about it.
Political danger – even in Germany
Cathcart has criticized the fact that some governments have tried to weaken encryption in chat services. “I hope over time governments will realize that the most important role they can play is to ensure more security” – for example by setting standards for companies. Whatsapp argues with governments that end-to-end encryption helps protect the security of citizens. Cathcart said Facebook is still sticking with the plan to provide full encryption for Messenger as the next step.
In many countries, governments and authorities are trying to bypass full encryption in chat services like Whatsapp. Also in Germany, there is a bill under which the protection of the constitution would supposedly allow monitoring of source communications in encrypted chat services as well.
With classic SMS messages, telecom service providers have always had to let the authorities monitor them. This does not yet apply to encrypted chat services. Criticize the security authorities, as this means that they will not be able to access communications from criminals or extremists. But recently, the international police authorities dealt a huge blow to organized crime with the help of a chat app, of all things. Investigators have succeeded in establishing their so-called secure app as a channel of communication in criminal circles. (NEM/SDA)
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