Explained: WhatsApp’s Response to Privacy Update

  • by Hasan

With the new privacy update, WhatsApp has potentially lost 25 million customers already. Telegram, another messaging app, has seen an increase of about 500% users since the controversy began. Most new signups to Telegram are potentially going to stay long-term as well.

With such a large number of people moving to other platforms, WhatsApp realized this is a problem and promptly responded. Today we’re going to look at their response and go through each of their points and give our opinions on it.

Point # 1 – WhatsApp & Facebook can’t see private messages or hear calls

WhatsApp says that because of their end-to-end encryption service, it’s impossible to see what users are sharing.

What is end-to-end encryption?

This is a secuirty mechanism that operates on a lock and key mechanism. This essentially means that whatever communication you have on WhatsApp with anyone is only accessible by the intended person.

Any messages you send are locked by encrpyting it and only the receiver has the key. Everyone else is blocked from reading that information because they don’t have the necessary key to unlock that encryption.

By everyone, they also claim WhatsApp can’t access encrpyted information.

Are they telling the truth?

On paper, it makes sense. But, it won’t be impossible for WhatsApp to break the encryption if they choose to.

That’s because the provider of the service will have the means to reverse-engineer it as well.

If they, for any reason at all, wish to read your messages, they can. It might just take a bit of effort, but a company as large as WhatsApp definitely has the resources to do so.

Point # 2 – WhatsApp doesn’t record who we contact

This is another claim that WhatsApp makes which is possible to bypass if they wish to.

WhatsApp regulalry backs up our data and they claim it’s only for us, if we ever lose our device or need a fresh install.

Storing large amounts of data might be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Given how fast data storage devices are evolving, it’s certainly possible to have an endless supply of data and be able to read it.

Data analytics techniques are also growing incredibly fast and again, the company definitely has the resources to store and analyze large amounts of data.

How can we tell if they record this information or not?

We can’t.

WhatsApp has the ability to do anything they want with our data. They just claim they don’t record such information. Until a very thorough investigation of all procedures of WhatsApp surfaces (which probably will never happen), we will never know if they actually store this information or not.

They just say they don’t.

Point # 3 – WhatsApp and Facebook can’t see our shared location

This claim is linked to end-to-end encryption that we discussed above. Whenever we share our location with anyone, it’s protected through this mechanism.

Is the mechansim fool-proof? Nope.

Can WhatsApp see our location, if they wish to? Yes.

End-to-encrpytion does have its flaws and it can be broken, if someone is motivated enough.

Point # 4 – WhatsApp doesn’t share our contacts with Facebook

While they claim that our contacts are not shared with Facebook, it’s important to note that WhatsApp is owned by Facebook. Facebook does have a history of selling data to third-party data brokers.

It’s not just Facebook either. Tech giants like Google have always been under fire for somehow finding ways to sell data to marketing firms to make personalized ads.

WhatsApp claims it doesn’t share our contacts with Facebook or the rest of its family of apps.

That doesn’t mean they cannot sell the data to third-party brokers from which Facebook can access the data from.

Point # 5 – WhatsApp groups remain private

This is again based on the end-to-end encryption system.

Quoting WhatsApp, ‘Again, these private chats are end-to-end encrypted so we can’t see their content.’

We know that end-to-end ecryption isn’t perfect. It has it flaws and is certainly hackable.

Point # 6 – Messages can be set to disappear

While this is a useful feature to have on an individual level, it certainly doesn’t tell us how WhatsApp will never be able to access those messages.

The following statement is taken from their official FAQs about disappearing messages.

‘If a user creates a backup before a message disappears, the disappearing message will be included in the backup.’

Backups are stored on WhatsApp’s servers. That means if they wish to, there is a window for them to collect that information.

Point # 7 – You can download and see what information WhatsApp has on your account

We’re kind of surprised as to why they would even mention this.

The report that they will send users (if they request it) can easily hide information that WhatsApp might not want to tell them.

You can create an application which logs all sorts of information from your device and not tell the user what it’s logging.

And you can also design the application to not accurately report everything if a user requests it.

You’re basically trusting a screen to tell you what’s the truth. Screens run on computers and computers can be programmed to tell you whatever the programmer intends to.

As an example, the US government once launched an offensive on Iran’s nuclear program. This virus is called Stuxnet and it was designed to present inaccurate information of the control screens to the staff working on the program.

While it was busy damaging their systems, the computer systems displayed no wrong doing.

We’re not suggesting that WhatsApp is a virus. It seems that WhatsApp wants us to believe that if a user requests their account information, they will provide all information they have and won’t hide anything.

Closing words

We’re not whistleblowers working at WhatsApp. We’re normal people who looked at WhatsApp’s response to this fiasco and gave our educated opinions on it. We’ve been following tech news for years and we’ve read a lot of documentation that is publicly available.

Based on that information, We feel that WhatsApp simply hasn’t given us any assurance in their response that they won’t misuse our data.

Saying something and doing something different is entirely possible.

Given the current state of misuse and malicious use of data, WhatsApp has a lot to prove before it should expect people to trust it fully.

It won’t easily happen considering their parent company is Facebook which is notorious for everything WhatsApp claims to stand against.

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