WhatsApp recently added end-to-end encryption for their communication network, this is a long awaited and requested feature that will not only protect you from people with malicious intents, it also ensures that no one except you or the person you’re communicating with can read your messages.
Not even the folks at WhatsApp.
Why is this important?
End-to-end encryption is something that all modern services should be using, the notion that “if you have nothing to hide then you shouldn’t care about surveillance” is simply something that can be easily exploited, a person has the right to have private conversations without any third party having the ability to read.
WhatsApp does this by encrypting the message before sending it over the internet, this means that any middle-man will only see gibberish being transmitted over your network, whereas in reality they’re just encrypted messages, upon being reception, these messages are decrypted with the help of a special key that only you and your conversation partner has.
How do I activate this?
There’s no need to change anything, if both the parties are using the latest version of WhatsApp, you’ll receive a system message in the chat box saying:
““Messages you send to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption. Tap for more info.“
If you can see this message then the only way a third party can ever see your private conversation is when one of you leaks it, it’s automatically activated and there’s no reason to take any further steps if you can see this message.
On the other hand, if for some reason you don’t see this message, then either you or your friend needs to update the application.
What does this mean for government agencies?
This definitely means that even government agencies will have trouble figuring out what’s actually being transmitted, since the application uses end-to-end encryption and no data is stored on the servers themselves (unless you’re using cloud storage), not even WhatsApp can tell what you’re talking about on your calls or text messages.
At the end of the day, this is a big win for the internet as a whole, there are countless more people who’d harm others via reading private conversations than people who’d use private conversations to harm others.
Facebook has already been using encryption for their social media pages for quite a while but they still store information on their own servers and respond to requests from law authorities in case the information on an account is vital for a case. Facebook submits their transparency report every year where they let everyone know how many requests came from each country and how many of these were responded to.
There’s currently no separate transparency report for WhatsApp but after the implementation of end-to-end encryption, we can surely expect some countries to ask for a backdoor for the encryption, which is a terrible idea.
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