Online messaging application WhatsApp has steadily made a name for itself over the years. From a small start-up company, it became bigger and better until it got acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014. Since then, it has grown from strength to strength, expanding its reach to different countries including India, Brazil, and certain parts of Europe and obtaining 1 billion users in February 2016.
WhatsApp is set to make history again with its latest development: encrypting everything that its users send to one another. Called end-to-end encryption, this technology ensures that only the sender and receiver will be able to see the messages, photos, and videos they exchange with each other and that hackers, won’t be able to intercept the data. Even WhatsApp staff won’t be able to read what you send to your friends and family members.
The act of encryption alone is already admirable. What makes this latest development from WhatsApp even more impressive is that it covers more than one billion users and spans several countries across the globe. It’s also on by default; as long as WhatsApp users are using the latest version of the app, they’re assured that all their communication are automatically encrypted from one end to another. The encryption is available for many platforms, including Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
Why End-to-End Encryption?
There are several reasons why WhatsApp has decided to take this step. For Jan Koum, one of the app’s founders, it’s an important cause on a personal level since he grew up in Ukraine under the Soviet leadership. Before his family moved to the U.S., he experienced firsthand how it was to live with a repressive government that could intrude into people’s lives any minute.
The encryption may be seen as a response to the tiff between Apple Computers and the United States government, which insisted that Apple open an iPhone that belonged to one of the suspects in the 2015 San Bernardino attack. Apple refused, prompting the authorities to hack into the phone themselves. However, it’s important to note that WhatsApp has been working on the encryption for two years, which means that it’s not exactly a reaction to the legal battle between Apple and the government.
Of course, the encryption can be interpreted simply as WhatsApp protecting the interests of its users. In its blog, the company points out that humans and civilizations have evolved with private speech and that their new technology aims to bring back the privacy invoked by face-to-face conversations.
What the Authorities Have to Say
WhatsApp users will certainly rejoice at the development of its end-to-end encryption, but not everyone is happy about it. Government officials are some of those who aren’t too glad about WhatsApp’s latest news, which isn’t really surprising considering that the app is said to have been used to plan the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest points out that the government and tech companies should be able to work together to deploy strong encryption without creating a haven for terrorists, child pornographers, and other criminals.