WhatsApp is accused of lying about encryption, but rebuts: “misunderstanding” – Apps & Software

WhatApp had the integrity of its privacy policy and end-to-end message encryption system questioned and then reaffirmed the same day. This Tuesday (07), a report by the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublic claimed that Facebook did not comply with the privacy promised on its service. However, a little later, the company told the 9to5Mac that, apparently, it was all a misunderstanding.

WhatsApp (Image: Jeso Carneiro/ Flickr)
WhatsApp (Image: Jeso Carneiro/ Flickr)

WhatsApp violates its own privacy policy?

“How Facebook harms the privacy protection of its 2 billion WhatsApp users” – This was the title given to the report by ProPublic, who stated that the instant messaging app, at certain times, shares user data with analysts while maintaining an “extensive monitoring operation”.

As the investigative organization pointed out, Facebook has always used WhatsApp as an example of privacy, ensuring that all messages go through end-to-end encryption, allowing only users who are actually communicating to read the messages. Thus, during their transmission, the files would be completely unreadable for anyone who intercepted them and even for the company itself.

The investigation of ProPublic said Facebook moderators are able to constantly “scan users’ messages, images and videos” on WhatsApp. However, the 9to5Mac emphasizes that this is only possible in one circumstance: when a message is reported.

Not quite…

When a user uses the WhatsApp message reporting feature, the reported file is automatically forwarded to Facebook. In this sense, it would be like manually forwarding an already decrypted message to someone else, who in this case is a moderator.

As confirmed by the 9to5Mac with WhatsApp itself, this reporting process creates a new end-to-end encrypted message whose final recipient is Facebook, which then has the key to decrypt the file. More simply, it’s like sending a new direct message to the company.

WhatsApp privacy policy is questioned (Image: Rachit Tank/Unsplash)
WhatsApp privacy policy is questioned (Image: Rachit Tank/Unsplash)

According to ProPublica’s arguments, this system would be violating the very privacy policy that Facebook so cherishes and uses as a model:

“WhatsApp has more than 1,000 hired employees filling floors of office buildings in Austin, Texas, Dublin and Singapore, where they sift through millions of pieces of user content… these workers use special Facebook software to sift through private message streams, images and videos denounced by WhatsApp users as inappropriate and then analyzed by the company’s artificial intelligence systems.”

Also according to the organization, a complaint filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last year denounced the extensive use of third-party companies and services, artificial intelligence systems and private information from WhasApp accounts to examine any reported content. According to the document, the practice would violate the privacy policies established by Facebook. However, the SEC took no action on the complaint and declined to comment on the matter.

Controversy reveals between the lines of the complaint process

WhatsApp posts include past posts (Image: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash)
WhatsApp posts include past posts (Image: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash)

This whole situation generated a big discussion about the true privacy of WhatsApp users. While the 9to5Mac contacted the company and clarified that, from a technical point of view, end-to-end encryption is not broken and that its policy remains intact, new information that may not be obvious has surfaced.

When reporting a message, WhatsApp states that “recent interactions” will be included in the report. However, what both polls found is that other previous messages are forwarded along with the one reported to Facebook moderators. As confirmed by 9to5Mac, more specifically the four most recent files accompany the target of the complaint to create a context to aid the analysis of the content.

With information: 9to5mac, ProPublica

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