In the ongoing, WhatsApp just enlisted a billion-strong army. Yesterday, the popular messaging service announced that it had enabled end-to-end encryption on the latest version of its app, providing a way for users to communicate that no one – not even WhatsApp – can intercept.
“End-to-end encryption helps make communication via WhatsApp private – sort of like a face-to-face conversation,” wrote WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton in a.
On most other chat apps, messages are only encrypted as they travel from user to server. This means that the company operating the service can potentially read them, or hand them over to law enforcement.
With end-to-end encryption now switched on, that won’t be possible for the billion worldwide users of WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook.
Previously, WhatsApp offered end-to-end encryption in limited form, only for Android users, and not for group, picture or video messages. Now everyone who uses the service will be protected, provided they have updated to the latest version.
The move is sure to enrage governments fighting to access our data. The FBI recently withdrew a court case that sought to force Apple toof San Bernardino bomber Syed Rizwan Farook, after finding a third party able to break in through a security vulnerability. Even so, the months-long stand-off forced the issue to the fore.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the government is attempting to pass new laws governing surveillance, but thehas failed to clarify the exact responsibilities of companies that offer encrypted services. The current bill says that firms must remove encryption they have applied to customers’ messages when asked – though it is unclear whether the service provider or user is deemed to apply end-to-end encryption, given that the provider never has access to the encryption key.
Such issues have become even more pressing now that a billion people are using end-to-end encryption, and anyone with a smartphone can start communicating securely with no technical know-how.
Last year, a court in Brazil ordered phone companies to, after the company refused to hand over messages related to a drug-trafficking trial. After WhatsApp’s latest salvo, further clashes with governments seem inevitable.