Amid ongoing scrutiny over parent company Meta’s plan to implement full encryption by default across all of its messaging apps, WhatsApp has launched a new promotional campaign which aims to drum home the importance of privacy for users, with an exaggerated example of how your unprotected messages can be accessed.
Over 5.5 billion texts are sent every day.— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) January 30, 2022
All personal. All unencrypted. ????
On WhatsApp, end-to-end encryption ???? ensures that no one can read or listen to your personal messages—not even us.
Are you messaging privately? pic.twitter.com/vRMphDjrEU
As you can see, WhatsApp’s new ad campaign equates the lack of security around SMS text messaging to people being able to read your physical mail. Which is a bit of a stretch, but the emphasis has some merit. You wouldn’t want people reading your letters, yet certain third-party providers can intercept text messages, which, in some ways, is similar.
Though it’s interesting timing. Right now, Meta is in the midst of integrating all of its messaging platforms (WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram Direct) into one platform, which would enable you to access your inbox from any of these apps on the other, and carry on conversations with friends across each.
A bi-product of that is that each of its messaging options now has to upgrade to full encryption, as offered by WhatsApp, in order to facilitate equally secure messaging across each surface.
Government representatives and law enforcement groups in almost every country have raised concerns about this shift, which they believe will limit the capacity of criminal investigations. If there’s no way of anyone being able to trace or access these types of exchanges, either internally or externally, that, essentially, would give free, undetectable reign to criminal organizations, enabling them to utilize Meta’s massive network to organize, mobilize and exchange illegal material, without fear of consequence.
The counter to this concern is the rising push to give users more rights to control their privacy and their personal data online.
The European Union has spent years implementing advanced privacy laws to protect people’s digital data, while a recent report from the UK Information Commissioner found that encrypting communications actually strengthens online safety by reducing people’s exposure to threats, like blackmail, while also allowing businesses to share private exchanges.
And there is clearly a desire for more privacy from consumers. WhatsApp already has over 2 billion users, and is seeing steady growth in the US, as discussions around online privacy become more prominent.
But that could also be a result of more groups switching to private messaging to avoid detection. Last August, Meta moved to ban WhatsApp users linked to the Taliban under its Dangerous Organizations policy, so there is still seemingly some recourse for the most extreme examples of such, where they can be detected.
But full encryption would significantly limit that process.
Is that a good thing, in that it offers more protection for users, or a bad thing, in that it could facilitate criminal activity?
Either way, it seems like Meta is pushing ahead, and while Government groups look to scare the public into opposing full encryption (the UK Government’s recent proposed campaign was pretty horrifying), it may be that amid all the discussion around polarization and purported manipulation by the mainstream media that more people actually want to secure their conversations from any type of outside interference.
This new push from WhatsApp will certainly stoke those fires even more, and it’ll be interesting to see if it results in an increase in WhatsApp take-up as a result.