Messaging service WhatsApp has released an advertising campaign defending end-to-end encryption
The practice ensures that the content of messages can only be viewed by the sender and the recipient. Companies, governments, law enforcement, hackers, and even the messaging service itself cannot read the message.
However, end-to-end encryption has come under attack from governments across the world, which want workarounds built-in that would allow them to access encrypted messages.
WhatsApp’s new marketing campaign will run in the UK and Germany from Monday, June 14th.
“We view this as underscoring our commitment to privacy and encryption at a time which we think is particularly relevant because there continue to be attacks on it in some parts of the world, so we think it’s particularly important that consumers understand what it is and what’s at stake,” said WhatsApp head Will Cathcart.
There are two sides to the end-to-end encryption debate – on the one hand, the practice is among the most secure forms of data protection available. This makes it popular with security- and privacy-conscious users and is used by numerous apps, including Telegram and Signal, in addition to WhatsApp.
However, this level of security has brought it under scrutiny. Last year, a report from the Children’s Commissioner Office said end-to-end encryption puts children at risk, as predatory or inappropriate messages cannot be picked up on by the services or passed onto law enforcement.
In addition, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said criticised WhatsApp parent company Facebook’s plans to roll out end-to-end encryption on its own messenger. She has said that this will hamper law enforcement’s ability to fight child abuse.
A draft of the UK Online Safety Bill will require companies to control the content on their platforms. While the bill does not explicitly ban end-to-end encryption, it may prove impossible for companies to be both accountable for the content and keep messages encrypted.
The EU last year stated that it would make moves to gain access to encrypted data to fight child abuse and terrorism.
Privacy rights organisation the Open Rights Group (ORG) signed a letter calling on MPs to protect end-to-end encryption from legislative threats. They claimed that the UK Government has been trying to equate the practice with child abuse and that companies that use end-to-end encryption are aiding the exploitation of children.
“The Online Safety Bill contains clauses which will introduce requirements for companies to scan our private and personal messages for evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” ORG said in a statement.
“In order to do this, the use of end-to-end encryption is likely to be defined as a violation of the law. And companies operating in the UK who want to continue to defend user privacy through end-to-end encryption could, under the draft Bill, be threatened with partial shutdowns, being blocked from the UK, or even personal arrests.”
In statements to the press, WhatsApp’s Cathcart added that strong safety is important to keep people safe online and that governments should be encouraging tech companies to provide the strongest possible security.
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WhatsApp’s privacy policies have been a source of controversy this year. The app’s parent company Facebook made an announcement in January that new rules would require many of its users to share some of their data with the company.
While the content of messages is still end-to-end encrypted and therefore unreadable by Facebook, WhatsApp collects other data, including locations and phone numbers.
While the backlash was bad for WhatsApp, it showed how important privacy and end-to-end encryption is for many millions of users of messaging services worldwide.