WhatsApp new encryption isn’t all that it seems

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WhatsApp is getting credit, including fawning praise, for turning on End-to-end encryption for their very popular messaging product.  Looking a little deeper into WhatsApp shows that it’s not as great as the hype might have you think.

For starters, WhatsApp is late to the ‘end to end encryption’ party.  Other messaging apps like Wickr and our preference, Telegram have had this feature for many years.  WhatsApp isn’t an innovator, it’s just catching up with the competition.

It’s certainly not the ‘full encryption’ that some media is reporting.  WhatsApp has records of what you’re doing.

Call log

WhatsApp does track who you are calling and texting.  This is from their privacy statement under the misleading heading ‘The Information WhatsApp Does Not Collect’:

Notwithstanding the above, WhatsApp may retain date and time stamp information associated with successfully delivered messages and the mobile phone numbers involved in the messages, as well as any other information which WhatsApp is legally compelled to collect.

It’s similar to a phone company having your call log.  They know who you called, when and for how long.

Data handover

That last phrase ” any other information which WhatsApp is legally compelled to collect” is vital.  Any privacy promises mean nothing.  That includes the part where WhatsApp promises to delete any files sent via their servers – it’s a promise they can’t keep because laws (especially US law) can compel them to keep those files, hand them over and keep the entire privacy breach a secret from the people affected.

This data can (and probably is) handed over to governments either for specific people or in bulk.  The same laws that expose your use of OneDrive, Skype and Gmail apply to WhatsApp.

No documents

One critical omission from WhatsApp (at least for Microsoft Office users) is the limited file transfer features.  Only pictures, videos and PDF’s can be sent via WhatsApp.

To send Office documents securely between people you need Telegram or Wickr.

 

Our recommendation from 2015 is unchanged. We prefer Telegram because it has a very secure ‘Secret’ mode where necessary but mostly people will use the easier standard mode.  It can securely send any type of file, including Office documents.


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