Things You Should Know But Don’t: WhatsApp Privacy Controversy

Posted April 27, 2021

In February, Facebook was hit with backlash due to its privacy updates to the popular chat platform, WhatsApp. According to press reports, the update extended the privacy policy to give Facebook more access to user’s conversations. In truth, the update only allowed user conversations to be stored on Facebook servers – it did not fully allow free access to messages. WhatsApp has insisted that user chats will remain end-to-end encrypted and private, but that it will try to be clearer about changes in the future.

The issue seemed to stem from a misconception that shows the fear around Facebook more than a fear of WhatsApp itself.  Facebook has been accused of selling user information and privacy violations.  It’s easy to understand the instant concern that overtook WhatsApp users when they got the news that their messages were going to be stored on Facebook servers. Even with reassurance from the company, people began switching to different apps such as Signal or Telegram. These apps promise less data collection and the same end-to-end encryption of messages.

This type of encryption is not as common as you would think in messaging apps, despite how important it is to users once it’s brought to their attention. End-to-end encryption is a type of security that makes sure only the intended recipient’s device can decrypt the message being sent. This means that only someone with access to the receiving device will see the message. Of course, it is important to make sure you secure your device with passcodes and anti-malware software to prevent any outside access to your device. If your device is hacked, all of your messages can be read.

End-to-end encryption is the most basic and most secure way to handle texts. Despite this, there are many popular apps that don’t use it: Snapchat, Discord, Skype, and Messenger are several examples. It’s important to know that without end-to-end encryption, messages can be intercepted and viewed at any point. As unlikely as it is that they’re being monitored, it is a possibility to be aware of.

The ugly side of this is the popularity of encryption text programs to criminals.  Such data protection is critical to many criminal enterprises.  Apps like Signal and others are their communications platforms of choice.  Without both the sending and receiving devices, law enforcement has no way to build evidence through surveillance.

Whether or not an app has end-to-end encryption doesn’t ultimately determine its policy on datamining or how safe it is. The only way to make sure you’re using an app in the most secure way is to do your own research so that it can be utilized wisely. The best thing the fallout from the WhatsApp privacy update has done is motivate people to get more educated. For now, it seems that WhatsApp is fairly innocuous. Moving forward, however, plans to integrate WhatsApp with Messenger and Instagram happen, users will want to recheck their views on privacy and datamining issues in the future.  The lesson to all of this?  Remain vigilant around the privacy updates of all your apps.

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