Last night, WhatsApp figuratively flipped a switch and turned on encryption for over a billion people who use the app. Now, this may seem like just another regular feature in the chat app. But actually, it is a much much more significant move, especially in the backdrop of the much-public fight between Apple and FBI over the encryption.
There are two aspects to the WhatsApp's move to enable encryption: long term and short term. And both should make WhatsApp users happy.
So what can users expect in the short term. The WhatsApp co-founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum explain it best. They write, "The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cyber-criminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us. End-to-end encryption helps make communication via WhatsApp private – sort of like a face-to-face conversation."
All of the communication that you carry out through WhatsApp is now encrypted. This includes calls or even the videos that you may share through the app. Although, WhatsApp will still collect meta-data, the fact that it no longer have access to users' chats is significant.
The long term impact of the move is even more significant. Of late, especially after Edward Snowden revealed the surveillance programmes run by NSA, there is a feeling that nothing is private anymore on the web. But WhatsApp's move to enable strong encryption and making sure that it doesn't store any keys, brings some sort of privacy back into the web-related communication. This is important because nowadays not only are cyber criminals looking to exploit people's data, but also governments across the world are trying to keep a tab on what people say to each other using chat apps or social media.
Once again, the WhatsApp co-founders, explain it best. "While WhatsApp is among the few communication platforms to build full end-to-end encryption that is on by default for everything you do, we expect that it will ultimately represent the future of personal communication," they wrote in a blog.
The message is clear. WhatsApp may have been among the first big services to publicly take a stance on the encryption and enable the feature in its app, it won't be first. Going forward, expect other services to follow the lead provided by WhatsApp.
Overall, this means that the private communication in future is once again going to be relatively more private, just the way it should be. Although there are chances that the governments across the world aren't going to like the trend, WhatsApp's decision shows that they may not be in a position to do much about it.