The news of WhatApp adding end-to-end encryption has caught the attention of the Indian media for understandable reasons. Indians are the biggest users of WhatsApp, about 100 million from a user base of one billion.
Now what does this mean for the average user, who carries out a lot of his or her communication, including photos, documents, voice chat and so on. Will it all be absolutely safe and private? Can we trust WhatsApp? I would not, for a simple reason.
Having well-documented proof of the American ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) industry and its deep involvement with their national security apparatus, any one who now starts trusting these companies based on the publically declared policy would be extremely naïve.
It is evident that any declaration or privacy law is applicable, if at all, only to the citizens of that country. The US and its five eyes partners - UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have conveniently colluded so that their own citizens are under mass surveillance by their allies.
Now if you examine the business model of WhatsApp does it charge for service? I have not paid any money till date nor does WhatsApp run any advertisement banners or premium paid service. So why did Facebook pay 19 billion dollars to acquire it? If Facebook itself cannot access the user data other than the metadata, does it justify the 19 billion dollars spent by Facebook in acquiring WhatsApp?
|Facebook paid 19 billion dollars to acquire WhatsApp.|
An American company in the big data business trading on the stock exchange and answerable to its share holders to generate profit now gives free service to a billion customers with limited or no return! Somehow this doesn't pass the smell test.
Having said that, one thing, however, is certain. No law enforcement agency of any country will now be able to get the data through a legal process. All of us exchanging gossip, jokes and more in school groups can rest easy. Although a Panama-like leak some time in the future is always a possibility, which can always be attributed to a security hole.
Now let me list out the privacy concerns on WhatsApp. The app requires users to upload their mobile phone's entire address book to its servers so that WhatsApp can discover who, among the users' contacts, is available via WhatsApp. While this is a fast and convenient way to quickly find and connect the user with contacts who are also using WhatsApp, it means that their address book is then stored on the WhatsApp servers, including contact information for contacts who are not using the app.
This allows Facebook to access user's behavioural data and personal information. It means location sharing data, 30 billion messages sent per day, and access to users' entire contact lists. To believe that a company which relies on data mining will unilaterally give this up stretches the credibility test.
The only logical conclusion is that the American big data industry is carrying out a finely tuned and nuanced psychological operation by a series of stories likes the Apple versus FBI stand off and now the end-to-end encryption for WhatsApp. Trust has to be like Caesar's wife - above suspicion, and in this WhatApp fails.