Alert! WhatsApp encryption claim for messages of users NOT true, alleges report

Is WhatsApp encryption claim false? ProRepublica says the claim by WhatsApp is not true at all. WhatsApp says that it provides end-to-end encryption for all users' messages, something that Facebook highlights too. However, this claim is being contested by a new report. 

| Updated on: Aug 21 2022, 20:18 IST
A report published by ProRepublica has made the sensational claim that users do not get WhatsApp encryption, contrary to what the Facebook-owned company claims. (Pixabay)
A report published by ProRepublica has made the sensational claim that users do not get WhatsApp encryption, contrary to what the Facebook-owned company claims. (Pixabay)

WhatsApp encryption claim has just been called out. WhatsApp has always maintained that its messages are end-to-end encrypted and has publicised this widely across its ad campaigns. Parent company Facebook too has publicised this feature and it is considered to be one of the biggest USPs of the messaging platform. However, there is a new report that claims that WhatsApp messages are not end-to-end encrypted and alleges that Facebook views the content of messages sent on WhatsApp.

A ProPublica report claims that Facebook has been marketing WhatsApp encryption feature since 2016, the year that this feature came into effect. The claims made in the report are based on observations 1,000 contract workers at WhatsApp who reportedly examine millions of user content. The report says that these workers have access to special Facebook software to check private WhatsApp messages, videos, and images. However, this report questioning WhatsApp encryption only cites messages that a user has reported. "These contractors pass judgment on whatever flashes on their screen — claims of everything from fraud or spam to child porn and potential terrorist plotting — typically in less than a minute," the report adds.

This makes one thing clear though, that the ProPublica report is essentially talking about conversations that have been flagged in one-to-one WhatsApp chats. What the report also does not mention is that WhatsApp only forwards the last five messages to the content moderators and they do not get access to the entire chat history. The report also mentions that these content moderators are based in Austin, Singapore, Dublin, and Texas and are tasked to examine reported chats.

A tweet shared by WABetaInfo includes a screenshot that shows exactly what happens when someone reports a conversation. The screenshot shared shows an old pop-up version that states - "The most recent messages from this contact will be forwarded to WhatsApp. This contact will not be notified." There is also a second pop-up from a newer version of the app that says - "The last 5 messages from this contact will be forwarded to WhatsApp. If you block this contact and delete the chat, it will be deleted from this device only. The contact will not be notified."

ProPublica has also mentioned in the report that WhatsApp's internal marketing presentation from last year emphasised the fierce promotion of WhatsApp's privacy narrative and that the company compares its brand character to the Immigrant Mother. The report adds that Carl Woog, WhatsApp's communications director, has acknowledged that a team of contractors in Austin and a few other places review WhatsApp messages to “identify” and remove “the worst” abusers on the platform. According to ProPublica, being a content moderator for WhatsApp is almost the same as being a moderator for Facebook and Instagram.

"Because WhatsApp's content is encrypted, artificial intelligence systems can't automatically scan all chats, images and videos, as they do on Facebook and Instagram. Instead, WhatsApp reviewers gain access to private content when users hit the ‘report' button on the app, identifying a message as allegedly violating the platform's terms of service,” the report states.

"We build WhatsApp in a manner that limits the data we collect while providing us tools to prevent spam, investigate threats, and ban those engaged in abuse, including based on user reports we receive. This work takes extraordinary effort from security experts and a valued trust and safety team that works tirelessly to help provide the world with private communication,” Facebook said in a response to ProPublica's report.

"Based on the feedback we've received from users, we're confident people understand when they make reports to WhatsApp, we receive the content they send us,” the company added.

WhatsApp faced a significant amount of backlash earlier this year when its new privacy policy was announced that made sharing data between Facebook and WhatsApp easy. However, this data sharing was only limited to business chats and not personal chats.

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First Published Date: 08 Sep, 17:50 IST