WhatsApp highlights encryption after privacy backlash

Published on 14 Jun 2021

WhatsApp has launched a new ad campaign called 'message privately' in the UK that focuses on privacy. The ad highlights WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption of user messages. The campaign will run internationally but will debut in the UK and Germany starting Monday, 14th June. 

The new ad campaign consists of three ad films that highlight how WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption works. The ads use humor to explain how the platform scrambles user messages so that the content remains private. The campaign seems to be a response to the backlash the company received regarding an update to its terms and conditions, and to growing pressure from governments to change how its encryption works so that the original sender of a message can be tracked if required.

See also: WhatsApp to restrict features for non-acceptance of privacy policy

Reassuring customers regarding privacy

At the beginning of this year, WhatsApp announced a change to its privacy policy that would change how business accounts on their platform can use data and information about users who chat with them. The update would allow businesses to share chat information and data with Facebook. It would also enable business accounts to accept payments via WhatsApp. However, there was significant confusion about the update with many users mistakenly thinking that WhatsApp would begin sharing private information, data, and their messages with parent company Facebook. Many users abandoned the platform for rivals like Signal and Telegram. WhatsApp tried to clarify the change in terms with several blog posts and media interviews. Things seemed to calm down after a few months. However, the damage was done and most people still have a negative perception regarding WhatsApp and privacy.  The new ad campaign might help repair that image and reassure users regarding privacy.

Pressure from governments against end-to-end encryption

Because of end-to-end encryption, only the device that sends a message and the device that receives it are able to read a message. WhatsApp or its parent company Facebook are unable to intercept any messages. This also means that law enforcement is unable to intercept messages. It is not possible to track the origin of messages that are shared broadly on the app. UK Home Secretary Priti Patil has raised concerns about the use of end-to-end encryption and how it could be exploited to enable child abuse. In February of this year, the Indian government introduced new guidelines to regulate content on social media and streaming platforms. However, the rules have received broad criticism. WhatsApp is currently suing the Indian government over the new rules as it would force the platform to break end-to-end encryption of its messages.

In an interview with BBC, Head of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart said that government should be demanding more security not less, "The first step of keeping people safe is, you have to have strong security, and we think governments shouldn't be out there trying to encourage tech companies to offer weak security, they should be out there trying to encourage or even mandate that companies offer the strongest security possible."

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