WhatsApp was a global trending topic last night and the reason for the trend was that WhatsApp rolled out an update that supports end to end WhatsApp Encryption across all major devices and supports encrypted cross platform communication. The WhatsApp Encryption update comes at a time when FBI and other security and intelligence agencies of Governments the world over seem to be very much interested in snooping into people’s smartphones, emails, computers etc to monitor their communication.
Before the WhatsApp Encryption update, only text message communications were encrypted and the encryptions were not cross platform supported. This meant that if someone sent a WhatsApp message from a platform like Android to a different platform like iOS, then some snooping Government agency could read in real time messages being exchanged via WhatsApp, but after the update, now anyone trying to snoop into messages will read gibberish like “#5idHI89KH %IFD&f9” instead of reading “Hello World”.
The advantage of the WhatsApp end to end encryption means that you and me can now communicate anything we want to communicate without fear of being caught, whether what we are communicating is gossip against the Government and Government officials. For example if you have this itching feeling to tell someone some “insider” information you have gathered concerning a sensitive matter like the just concluded ICC case against the DP, you can safely tell that someone via WhatsApp message and not via the normal text message. The WhatsApp encryption also extends to WhatsApp phone calls, videos, and other files shared through WhatsApp. Initially, the encryption that was not cross platform supported was limited to WhatsApp text messages, but after the WhatsApp Encryption update all types of communications through WhatsApp are now encrypted.
The major setback for us is that the bad guys like those who plan robberies and terrorist activities can now easily execute their plans via WhatsApp without fear that a snooping Government security or intelligence agency will hijack their communication; and this means that Governments’ security and intelligence agencies’ abilities to gather intelligence on potential security threats are now limited.
The ICT companies like WhatsApp are however in privacy vs security catch 22 situation – if they do not enable encryption, then not only will the Governments snoop freely into what we say to one another, but also the bad guys like those very terrorists will have the free way to access our personal information, and that may endanger us. Even giving the Government the ability to snoop into our communication at will hinders our freedom of communication in so many ways.
The other issue faced by the ICT companies is loss of users/customers if they do not provide strong encryption communication services. For example if WhatsApp allows communication through its platform to be encryption free, many of its one billion users will abandon the platform and opt for other competing platforms that incorporate strong encryption, but as you and I both know, WhatsApp cannot take that risk.
All said and done, I am personally happy that WhatsApp now incorporates strong encryption in all its communication channels, be they voice calls or text messages or file sharing.