Displaying items by tag: WhatsApp

On Monday the 13th of May 2019, Whatsapp admitted yet to another breach in their security system: enabling targeting spyware to be installed on phones through voice calls. An Israeli spying firm indeed has been accused of using that security hole in Whatsapp used by 1.5 billion people.

Published in Apps

Telcos and OTTs shouldn’t be subject to same rules

Written on Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:26

It’s no secret that telecom operators have struggled against the popularity of over-the-top (OTT) applications like WhatsApp and Skype, who have challenged traditional voice and SMS revenue streams. Some operators have called for regulators to subject OTTs to legacy telecommunications regulations in order to even the playing field. But such suggestions are misguided, according to the ITU.

Telecom operators are stuck in a predicament regarding OTT services who utilize their networks. They have little control over the growth of OTTs because users should be free to use the internet as they please. The network carrier only carries the IP packets from source to destination. They might be aware of the packets and their contents, but cannot do much about it. Carriers have had to roll with the punches and figure out how to adapt.

Ultimately, using VoIP (voice-over-IP) is a cheaper alternative to making expensive phone calls because the user doesn’t have to pay to use the dedicated phone line and instead utilizes an internet connection without any extra costs. As is the case with most VoIP services, calls made using the internet are often free while calls made to a cellular network require a payment. The advanced communication functions of modern smartphones have played a role in the rapid growth of OTT services.

The question is: what can network carriers do about it? Telecom carriers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue to VoIP services, statistics show. Some network carriers reacted, of course, by imposing restrictions on VoIP services. AT&T did this when Apple released its iPhone and the US telecom operator didn’t want its network being used for VoIP calling. AT&T lifted the block in 2009 after pressure from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

AT&T had an agreement with Apple to ban apps that would enable iPhone users to make phone calls using a wireless data connection. The scandal was revealed when the FCC requested that the companies explain why Google’s Voice app was rejected for the iPhone app store. The FCC was led to investigate if AT&T and Apple were colluding to prevent competition, sparking the beginning of a sour relationship between telecom providers and OTTs.

Can telcos come out on top?

For decades, telecom operators had free reign to charge rates for voice, data and SMS largely in excess of their marginal cost, which created a market ripe with innovation. The International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) recent report ‘The State of Broadband 2017’ highlights the struggle telecom operators have faced since that period began to wane, as online applications became increasingly popular with consumers around the world who wished to interact in ways not possible through traditional communications channels.

Communication has been transformed by the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Skype, WeChat, Google, WhatsApp and Viber. These OTT services have “transformed the way people build communities and search for information, and made valuable contributions to health, education, finance and entertainment,” ITU claims in the report. “Online applications now generate a significant proportion of the socioeconomic impact of digitization and utilization of the internet itself.”

The demand for OTT services has driven the telecom industry to a new era, and some telecom operators – in defense of their traditional revenues – have sought to “handicap” the growth of OTT players, the report suggests. It’s important to note, however, that these OTT services, however disruptive they may be, are driving demand for telecom operators’ broadband services. Without the content and services that OTTs provide, consumers would be less willing to pay operators for internet access, ITU claims.

“The operators’ complaints make as much sense as cable operators that sell access to cable channels complaining that people are watching too much TV, driving up the demand for their own services,” the report says, “Or a restaurant complaining that too many people want to eat its food driving up food costs. Operators sell access – not content – but people only want that access to use online content.”

Telecom operators, according to the report, claim they cannot invest in their networks because online OTT services have limited their ability to generate revenue. The ITU says this is “inaccurate” and “misguided”.

Some telecom operators have called upon regulators to apply the “same rules for the same service” by encouraging authorities to subject all online OTT services to legacy telecommunications regulations. ITU rejects this, emphasizing that OTTs don’t offer the “same service” as telecom operators, and that subjecting them to the same rules would be “entirely inappropriate”.

OTT services like Facebook and Google, for example, don’t provide equivalent services as telecom operators, the report points out. Operators provide access to the internet and some vertically integrated services that take advantage of, and are bundled with, general access. Online OTTs, on the other hand, provide interactive experiences for internet users that go beyond traditional voice and SMS, including payment services, chat services and photo/video sharing.

The fundamental differences between the telecom sector and online OTT services has led to the establishment of different rules, the report highlights. For instance, telecom regulations are intended to ensure that established operators – who own network infrastructure with high barriers to entry and face limited competition – do not use these privileges to the disadvantage of consumers. OTT services, by contrast, don’t control network infrastructure and must compete fiercely to retain customers who could easily be swayed.

There’s also the perception that OTT payers get a “free ride” on telecom network infrastructure which is financed by operators. But in truth, OTT players invest billions of dollars annually in a combination of physical facilities, according to the ITU, including data centers, fiber networks, servers and routers, which form an “essential part of the physical fabric of the internet”. In fact, according to the report, online OTT players invested an average of US$33 billion per year in infrastructure from 2011-2013.

ITU argues that telecom operators should recognize how much online OTT players drive consumers’ willingness to pay for internet access, which then provides more opportunities to generate revenue and finance new infrastructure. According to the report, consumers who demand the most data tend to spend more money on mobile contracts that feature high-speed data – revenue that goes directly to the telecom operators.

“Regulatory authorities do not have to choose directly between the interests of online application providers and telecom operators,” the ITU report concludes with. The most important aspects of internet usage that regulatory authorities should focus on, the report suggests, are adhering to customer needs, ensuring that the internet is widely available, and prioritizing connectivity, competition and innovation.

Published in Featured

Saudi Arabia to lift block on internet video calling

Written on Sunday, 24 September 2017 12:15

Internet video calling services like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber, will be available to use in Saudi Arabia next week, after coordination between the Communications and Information Technology Commission and telecommunications service providers to allow applications that provide voice communications over the internet.

Communications and Information Technology Minister, H.E. Eng. Abdullah Alswaha, said the commitment had been confirmed by the cooperating parties to enable internet users in the kingdom to use applications to make high quality voice and video calls, under the condition that all applications are reviewed every so often.

“This fruitful cooperation between the kingdom’s telecoms partners comes under the umbrella of ‘Customer First’,” the Minister said, “a policy in which everyone works in order to give all telecom subscribers in the kingdom the best services that meet their expectations and satisfy their needs.”

Saudi Arabia has previously taken steps to improve customer service and create more transparency in the telecom sector, including the introduction of the quarterly index of complaints filed by subscribers to telecommunications providers.

More initiatives by the Commission are set to unfold in partnership with telecom providers, according to Arab News, to improve the sector and customer experience, in line with Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and become a more digital, customer-centric society.   

Published in Government

WhatsApp, which is one of the world’s most popular messaging applications - has finally announced a strategy for the monetization of its service in an effort to address issues regarding its ‘sustainability’. Concerns have long been raised over its sustainability, but now the application which was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion has revealed its plans.

WhatsApp published a blog post in which it outlined its plans to launch a new innovative service that specifically targets large businesses, with green tick verification badges and a host of other communications tools. In addition to this, it also plans to introduce a ‘free app’ for SME’s.

A spokesperson for the messaging platform said, “Over a billion people use WhatsApp every day to stay connected with their family and friends, and over time, more people are using the app to communicate with businesses they care about too.”

Analysts have claimed that WhatsApp have identified a gaping hole in the market for businesses all over the world, especially those located in Asia, where the platform is a staple, use the service as a free way of connecting merchants and consumers. On the company’s blog post it highlighted information gathered from a survey it conducted, which indicated that users prefer when businesses use WhatsApp as it makes them feel more comfortable buying from a retailer that establishes a connection between the invisible sides of a digital transaction.

The blog post added, “We’ve heard stories of shopkeepers who use WhatsApp to stay in touch with hundreds of customers from a single smartphone, and from people who are unsure about whether or not a business on WhatsApp is authentic.”

The issue of monetization has always been an issue for technology products as companies have to engage in an education process in order to convince users to get past the notion that digital services are ephemeral enough to not warrant a cost. That’s fine, but tech firms have overheads and employees to pay, which makes it extremely challenging in the sense that one of the biggest problems in the industry are its most integral.

WhatsApp COO, Matt Idema confirmed that the firm does plan on introducing fees for businesses, but claimed that he didn’t yet have the details of what services would be monetized. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said: “We do intend on charging businesses in the future. Naturally, people might wonder how we plan to keep WhatsApp running without subscription fees and if today’s announcement means we’re introducing third-party ads. The answer is no.”

The COO also disclosed that WhatsApp will commence tests on tools that enable users to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from. This could for example allow you to communicate with financial institutions such as a bank over a recent transaction which you believe to be fraudulent - or with an airline over a cancellation or a delay.

WhatsApp continues to appear reluctant to want to go down the advertising route, which is in stark contrast to its parent company, Facebook, whose entire business is funded by huge advertising revenues. Facebook began introducing sponsored posts in its Messenger app in July of this year as it seeks new ways to engage users of its messaging service with advertising clients. However, it’s plain to see that Facebook is now pushing for WhatsApp to make its acquisition worthwhile.

Published in Apps

Facebook posts 71 percent increase in Q2 profit

Written on Thursday, 03 August 2017 10:02

Social network giant Facebook posted a 71 percent increase in Q2 profit and a 50 percent rise in mobile ad sales, extinguishing rumors that ad revenue growth had faded for the company as it runs out of ad display space. Facebook also announced a new milestone that there are now 2 billion people using the platform.

Facebook’s shares reached a record high on Thursday, July 27, after it posted positive results, adding more than $27 billion to its market value. The company’s shares increased 6 percent to $175 in early trading, adding gains worth twice the market capitalization of rival Twitter, Reuters said.

Facebook admitted that ad revenue growth is expected to slow down during 2017. Growth in ad sales did drop to 47 percent in Q2, after a 51 percent increase the previous quarter, but that didn’t seem to bother investors who are now looking ahead to new ad growth opportunities with Facebook’s other platforms including WhatsApp, Messenger and with video.

Moffett Nathanson Research analyst Michael Nathanson said, “The strength of Facebook’s mind-boggling results continued to be a testament of the platform’s massive user base and unparalleled targeting abilities.”

While Facebook reported a milestone 2 billion users, its other platforms Messenger and WhatsApp, have more than 1 billion users each. Every day, more than 175 million people share a Love reaction, and on average, over 800 million people like something on Facebook, the company claims. What’s more, over 250 million people use Instagram Stories every day, and more than 250 million people use WhatsApp Status every day.

“I'm proud of the progress our community is making, and it comes with a responsibility to make sure we have the most positive impact on the world that we can,” said Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in an online post. “That's why, last month, we updated Facebook's mission to focus not just on connecting the world, but also bringing the world closer together.”

Mobile advertizing was one of Facebook’s strongest revenue sources, accounting for 87 percent of the $9.16 billion in total ad revenue, as the average growth in ads increased 24 percent to a record high. Credit Suisse analyst Stephen Ju said advertisers will still buy Facebook ads space despite an increase in prices, due to Facebook’s superior return on investment compared with other digital platforms.

Published in Finance

Social networking colossus Facebook has seen its shares soar to a record high after it disclosed the financial results of its second quarter, which revealed that its mobile advertising business has grown by a staggering 50%. The results reaffirm the view that Facebook is now the venue of choice for an ever-increasing amount of online advertisers.

Facebook owns four of the most popular mobile services in the world, and it has seen it shares rise by more than 4% to $173 following after-trading on the Wall Street Stock Exchange. However, overall Facebook’s stock price has climbed to almost 44% this year.

Facebook has been adding more and more advertising into its Facebook News Feed, but that has become condensed, whilst it has also added adverts to its photo-sharing app Instagram, which has more than 700 million users. Facebook currently has over 2 billion users worldwide.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has confirmed that he plans to monetize its two messaging services Messenger and WhatsApp, which combined have more than 1 billion users each. Zuckerberg has expressed his desire to see the company move faster on this aim, but claimed he is confident they will get it right in the long-term.

Facebook also continues to accelerate its push into video, the social networking giant has identified this as an opportunity to win advertising spend from the TV industry, as more and more people spend their time consuming news and video content on its platform. Facebook is expected to launch a new video service that will include scripted shows, which is a sharp change of strategy from an organization which is founded on user-generated content.

Zuckerberg has previously stated that he firmly believes that video represents the future of Facebook’s business over the next 2-3 years. Facebook has officially confirmed that its total revenue rose form 44.8% to $9.32 billion in the second quarter of the year, which beat the average forecast of the $9.20 billion predicted by financial analysts. Facebook enjoyed incredible growth in mobile advertising, which has increased to nearly $8 billion.

Facebook Chief Financial Officer, David Wehner, expressed his delight at the financial results, and claimed that he expected to see Facebook continue to grow its mobile advertising capacity. He said: “In mobile we're continuing to see great strengths. We're seeing more and more ad dollars getting allocated to mobile, and we think that trend will continue."

Published in Finance

The Austrian government is set to introduce controversial legislation which would grant police authorities in the country the ability to access encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp and Skype. The government has claimed that the legislation has been drafted in an effort to ‘crackdown’ on criminals who are increasingly avoiding the use of communication via telephone.

Austria’s Justice Ministry said that government officials has consulted with political, technology, civil rights and legal experts to review its draft legislation - that would ultimately enable authorities to access and monitor real-time conversations on messaging service application.

However, it has transpired that such surveillance would only be permitted with a court order into investigations in relation to potential terrorist activities, or other crimes punishable by at least five years imprisonment. Other EU countries such as France, Italy, Poland and Spain has adopted similar policy changes and introduced new laws.

It remains unclear how Austria would conduct such a surveillance program, although it has been suggested that one approach would involve the installation of software on the computers and mobile devices of suspects using messaging tools with end-to-end encryption. That would prevent the government from accessing information by means of traditional, remote eavesdropping techniques.

It’s been further disclosed that such tools are sold by a handful of Austrian firms who specialize in selling off the shelf surveillance to governments. "Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are gravitating toward this type of spyware to overcome the challenge of end-to-end encryption," said Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto.

Deibert’s institute investigates the abuse of such surveillance tools, and he stressed the importance for governments to make sure they have proper oversight and public accountability when granting police authorities the right to use these particular surveillance technologies. It has been reported that the Austrian Judicial system has already sentenced several individuals to prison for their links to terrorist organizations. Prosecutions were made in a number of cases due to the influence of data from devices that had been seized by law enforcement officials. The government plans to submit the bill to parliament after an Aug. 21 deadline for submission of opinions.

Published in Government

The European Commission has fined Facebook €110 million for providing incorrect or misleading information during the Commission's 2014 investigation under the EU Merger Regulation of Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "Today's decision sends a clear signal to companies that they must comply with all aspects of EU merger rules, including the obligation to provide correct information. And it imposes a proportionate and deterrent fine on Facebook. The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers' effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts."

The EU Merger Regulation obliges companies in a merger investigation to provide correct information that is not misleading as this is essential for the Commission to review mergers and takeovers in a timely and effective manner. This obligation applies, regardless of whether the information has an impact on the ultimate outcome of the merger assessment.

When Facebook notified the acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, it informed the Commission that it would be unable to establish reliable automated matching between Facebook users' accounts and WhatsApp users' accounts. It stated this both in the notification form and in a reply to a request of information from the Commission. However, in August 2016, WhatsApp announced updates to its terms of service and privacy policy, including the possibility of linking WhatsApp users' phone numbers with Facebook users' identities.

On 20 December 2016, the Commission addressed a Statement of Objections to Facebook detailing its concerns. The Commission has found that, contrary to Facebook's statements in the 2014 merger review process, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook and WhatsApp users' identities already existed in 2014, and that Facebook staff were aware of such a possibility.

The decision has no impact on the Commission's October 2014 decision to authorize the transaction under the EU Merger Regulation. Indeed, the clearance decision was based on a number of elements going beyond automated user matching. The Commission at the time also carried out an 'even if' assessment that assumed user matching as a possibility. The Commission therefore considers that, albeit relevant, the incorrect or misleading information provided by Facebook did not have an impact on the outcome of the clearance decision.

Moreover, the decision is unrelated to either ongoing national antitrust procedures or privacy, data protection or consumer protection issues, which may arise following the August 2016 update of WhatsApp terms of service and privacy policy.

 According to the Merger Regulation, the Commission can impose fines of up to 1% of the aggregated turnover of companies, which intentionally or negligently provide incorrect or misleading information to the Commission.

In setting the amount of a fine, the Commission takes into account the nature, the gravity and duration of the infringement, as well as any mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

Facebook committed two separate infringements by providing incorrect and misleading information in the merger notification form and in the reply to a Commission request for information. The Commission considers that these infringements are serious because they prevented it from having all relevant information for the assessment of the transaction.

Moreover, the Commission considers that Facebook staff were aware of the user matching possibility and that Facebook was aware of the relevance of user matching for the Commission's assessment, and of its obligations under the Merger Regulation. Therefore, Facebook's breach of procedural obligations was at least negligent.

The Commission has also considered the existence of mitigating circumstances, notably the fact that Facebook cooperated with the Commission during the procedural infringement proceedings. In particular, in its reply to the Commission's Statement of Objections, Facebook acknowledged its infringement of the rules and waived its procedural rights to have access to the file and to an oral hearing. This allowed the Commission to conduct the investigation more efficiently. The Commission has taken Facebook's cooperation into account in setting the level of the fine.

On the basis of these factors, the Commission has concluded that an overall fine of €110 million is both proportionate and deterrent.

This is the first time that the Commission has adopted a decision imposing fines on a company for provision of incorrect or misleading information since the entry into force of the 2004 Merger Regulation. Past Commission decisions in this regard were adopted under the 1989 Merger Regulation in accordance with different fine-setting rules.

In August 2014, Facebook, which is active in social networking, consumer communications and online non-search advertising services, notified the Commission of its plans to acquire the consumer communications services provider WhatsApp. The Commission cleared the transaction on 3 October 2014, after assessing its impact on the internal market in relation to the following services:

(i) Consumer communications services: the Commission found that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp were not close competitors and that consumers would continue to have a wide choice of alternative consumer communications apps post-merger. Although consumer communications apps are characterised by network effects, the investigation showed that a number of factors mitigated the network effects in this case.

(ii) Social networking services: the Commission concluded that, no matter what the precise boundaries of the market for social networking services are, and whether or not WhatsApp is considered a social network, the companies are distant competitors.

(iii) Online advertising: the Commission concluded that, regardless of whether Facebook would introduce advertising on WhatsApp and/or start collecting WhatsApp user data for advertising purposes, the transaction raised no competition concerns. This is because, besides Facebook, a number of alternative providers would continue to offer targeted advertising after the transaction, and a large amount of internet user data that are valuable for advertising purposes not within Facebook's exclusive control would continue to exist.

With respect to all three services the Commission carried out its competitive assessment also assuming a scenario where automated user matching would be possible. It concluded that, even in this scenario, its conclusions as to the lack of anti-competitive effects of the proposed transaction would stand.

Published in Government

WhatsApp soon to launch digital payments in India

Written on Thursday, 06 April 2017 09:45

Facebook-owned WhatsApp will soon reportedly offer digital payment services in India which will be its first offering globally. WhatsApp founder, Brian Acton, first mentioned the idea to local media in February that the app was in the early stages of investigating digital payments in India. The company is looking a digital transactions lead in the country.

Similar digital payment initiatives have been launched in China by the likes of Tencent Holdings Ltd’s WeChat. WhatsApp recognizes India as its biggest market, with 200 million of its billion plus users worldwide, and is working to launch person-to-person payments in the country in the next six months, according to news site The Ken.

WhatsApp recently advertised that it was looking for a candidate with a technical and financial background with a strong understanding of India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and the BHIM payments app that enables money transfers and merchant payments among mobile numbers. This candidate would lead WhatsApp’s digital transactions initiative in the country.

“India is an important country for WhatsApp,” said a spokesperson for the company, adding that WhatsApp is striving to contribute to the vision of ‘Digital India’, referring to a government program that aims to strengthen the use of internet-based services in India. The spokesperson added: “We’re exploring how we might work with companies that share this vision and continue to listen closely to feedback from our users.”

India’s Prime Minister, Narenda Modi, shocked the nation when he banned certain high-value bank notes in November last year which accounted for 80 percent of India’s currency circulation at the time. The introduction of the ban increased the demand in India for digital transactions.

Published in Apps

Just how secure is end-to-end encrypted messaging?

Written on Sunday, 02 April 2017 12:34

Facebook-owned application WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encrypted messaging last year, and while it was received well by the general public, security implications have made it a difficult ride for the company. In January, a report revealed vulnerabilities in the messaging service that could allow Facebook and others to intercept and read WhatsApp messages. Experts are now calling into question the security of encrypted messaging services.

WhatsApp introduced full encryption for its services in March 2016 as a means of ensuring that only the sender and the receiver could view messages being sent via the app. The new privacy feature applied to everything that is uploaded within a WhatsApp chat, including photos, videos and group messages. WhatsApp says end-to-end encryption prevents content and calls from “falling into the wrong hands.”

"Every day we see stories about sensitive records being improperly accessed or stolen," the company said in a blog post at the time. "And if nothing is done, more of people's digital information and communication will be vulnerable to attack in the years to come. Fortunately, end-to-end encryption protects us from these vulnerabilities.”

Written in WhatsApp’s ‘Security’ section on the app it reads: “Many messaging apps only encrypt messages between you and them, but WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them.”

That all sounded great until security researcher Tobias Boelter discovered a WhatsApp security loophole which he reported to Facebook in April 2016. Boelter discovered a vulnerability that could potentially allow the company to read messages sent via WhatsApp and also provide government agencies a “backdoor” to access messages of people who believe their messages to be secure. Facebook said it was aware of the issue and that it wasn’t pursuing a solution because it was “expected behavior”.

The loophole has been described by security experts as an acceptable “tradeoff” that allows WhatsApp to be easy to use on a daily basis. The risk to majority of users is said to be “remote” since the vulnerability only allows for targeted surveillance of individuals or groups of individuals at specific times, as opposed to a large scale mass surveillance of WhatsApp users worldwide.

The vulnerability centers on the generation of unique security keys in WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, using the acclaimed Signal Protocol, developed by software organization Open Whisper Systems which maintains an encrypted communications application called Signal. These security keys are traded and verified between users to guarantee communications are secure and cannot be intercepted by someone in the middle. However, Boelter discovered it’s not that simple…

WhatsApp, he claims, is able to force the generation of new encryption keys for offline users, which the user and sender of the message would be unaware of, and make the sender re-encrypt messages with new keys and send them again for any messages that have not been flagged as delivered.

This change in encryption is unknown to the recipient, and the message sender is only made aware if they have opted-in to encryption warning in WhatsApp settings, but this is only after the message has been delivered. This process of re-encrypting and re-broadcasting previously undelivered messages could potentially allow WhatsApp to intercept and download messages that were intended to be sent privately.

“If WhatsApp is asked by a government agency to disclose its messaging records, it can effectively grant access due to the change in keys,” says Boelter.

The vulnerability is not necessarily an issue related to the Signal Protocol, because Open Whisper Systems’ messaging app, Signal, does not share the vulnerability. If a message recipient using Signal changes the security key while offline, for example, the sent message will not be delivered and the sender will receive notification of the change in security keys without the message being automatically sent. This differs to WhatsApp, which automatically resends an undelivered message with a new key without warning the user.

The loophole has been verified by other security experts, such as Steffen Tor Jensen, head of information security and digital counter-surveillance at the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights, who says, “WhatsApp can effectively continue flipping the security keys when devices are offline and re-sending the message, without letting users know of the change till after it has been made, providing an extremely insecure platform.”

WhatsApp responded in a statement insisting it “does not give governments a ‘backdoor’ into its system and would fight any government request to create a backdoor.” The controversy adds to a growing list of privacy issues for WhatsApp ever since it was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion.

After the recent March 22 Westminster attack in London, the British Government said it wants its security services to have access to all encrypted messaging applications such as WhatsApp, as it was revealed that the app was used by the attacker to send an encrypted message before the incident.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd told Sky News it was “completely unacceptable” that the police and security services were not able to access the encrypted WhatsApp service to see the message that was sent by the attacker. Rudd said: “You can’t have a situation where you have terrorists talking to each other – where this terrorist sent a WhatsApp message – and it can’t be accessed.”

The UK recently passed the Investigatory Powers Act which allows the government to intercept bulk data of users held by private companies, even without suspicion of criminal activity. According to a Guardian report, private companies can be forced to “maintain technical capabilities” that facilitate data collection through hacking and interception. Companies can also be made to remove “electronic protection” from data.

Some experts suggest WhatsApp’s exposed vulnerability could be a “gold mine for security agencies” and facilitate government interception of private citizens. Professor Kirstie Ball, co-director and founder of the Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy, says: “It’s a huge threat to freedom of speech, for it to be able to look at what you’re saying if it wants to.”

WhatsApp first came under fire for security reasons in August last year after updating its terms-of-service to begin sharing user phone numbers, profile data, status message and online status with Facebook for advertising purposes.

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) accused WhatsApp of breaking its promise to users after announcing in 2014 that its sale to Facebook would not affect its privacy policy, and that it would never share or sell “personally identifiable information” such as phone numbers, name and profile data.

WhatsApp defended itself from the accusations, referring to an option for users to opt-out of the sharing portion of the terms-of-service. But that didn’t protect WhatsApp and Facebook from a Federal Trade Commission consent order, claimed EPIC, which requires companies to offer ‘opt-in’ consent to users before asking them to agree to new terms.

WhatsApp provided an opt-in option in a way, but it wasn’t clear enough how to access it. For instance, a user had to click “read” to view the terms-of-service agreement before the opt-in checkbox appears on screen.

Facebook and WhatsApp subsequently ended the sharing of user data in November last year after pressure from the European Union’s independent data protection authority Article 29 Working Party in October. The European Commission filed charges against Facebook for providing “misleading” information during the period before it acquired WhatsApp, following its data sharing change.

Published in Featured
Page 1 of 3