WhatsApp is not doing enough to protect its users’ data from governments, internet privacy campaigners have claimed.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, gave the messaging app one of the lowest scores in its annual report into how technology companies protect their users.
The criticisms come despite WhatsApp’s adoption of end-to-end encryption and politicians’ attacks on the app for being unable to hand over messages sent by criminals.
The EFF’s report assesses how companies deal with requests from governments for data about its users. They are given a rating between zero and five stars based on conditions such as whether users are told about data requests and whether they explicitly promise not to fight requests for their information.
WhatsApp has been blocked in Brazil three times in 2016 for failing to hand over information related to a criminal investigation. Judges ordered telecoms providers to block the service.
In September 2015 a software vulnerability was discovered in the web-based version of WhatsApp, which could allow hackers to trick users into downloading malware on their PCs. It was estimated that 200 million users were at risk.
In June 2015, it was reported that WhatsApp users swearing at each other in Dubai or Abu Dhabi could
face a £45,000 fine and deportation under a new federal law. Brits abroad beware…
$19 billion pricetag
In 2014, Facebook announced it was buying WhatsApp for a whopping $19 billion – dwarfing the $1 billion Facebook paid to buy Instagram. Shares in Facebook fell 5 per cent in after-hours trading in New York amid fears that the company had overpaid.
Facebook data sharing
In 2016, WhatsApp announced that it would start sharing data such as contacts with its owner Facebook for the first time. This caused an uproar over allegedly broken promises, and WhatsApp curtailed some of its data sharing in Europe in response
However, WhatsApp does collect some metadata, such as their device type, mobile network, which numbers have been contacted, and some information about web pages accessed through the app. Court filings show authorities have ordered the company to hand over this information to aid with investigations.
The EFF noted that unlike some other tech companies, “WhatsApp does not explicitly state that it prohibits third-party access to its user data, nor does it say that third parties are prohibited from allowing WhatsApp user data to be used for surveillance purposes”.
WhatsApp has, however, improved since it featured in the report two years ago. The EFF report made similar criticisms of Amazon while Adobe, Credo Mobile, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr and WordPress all received top marks.
Privacy groups criticised WhatsApp last year when it began to share data between users and their respective Facebook accounts.
About The Encryption
End to end encryption is a way of transmitting a message so that it can only be read by the intended recipient, and not intercepted by accessing the servers or the networks via which the message is sent.
Rather than being sent as plain text, the message is scrambled as a long series of digits that needs a key only held by the sender and the recipient to understand it.
The keys are ephemeral, meaning they disappear after the message is unscrambled so that it cannot be unlocked afterwards.
WhatsApp users can also verify that their communications are not being intercepted by scanning a code on the other user’s phone.
Encrypted messages and phone calls have infuriated security services, since they have relied on tapping into communications data.