Advances in the privacy of WhatsApp and other communication applications

WhatsApp, one of the world’s leading messaging and calling applications, is currently considered one of the most secure communication services, with end-to-end encryption as one of its main security mechanisms. However, compared with other applications that have the same purpose available, such as Signal and Telegram, can WhatsApp be considered the safest of all?

The company, founded in 2009, became even better-known after being bought by Meta, owner of Facebook, in 2014. Currently, WhatsApp has more than two billion active users and has been downloaded more than five billion times worldwide. Faced with such expressive numbers, many wonder if it is still safe to use it.

 

Encryption

The app’s end-to-end encryption feature has given WhatsApp a reputation for being safe, secure, and private. By using this mechanism, WhatsApp is considered more secure than other messaging apps. Yes, this includes Facebook Messenger, Instagram messages, Snapchat, and even the former iMessage. But it is not infallible.

It’s important to highlight that while your files and messages can be encrypted, WhatsApp still asks for your contacts when you create an account. Despite all security measures, this still puts your personal information at risk – less than most, to be sure, but still a risk.

WhatsApp also tracks how much time you spend in the app. Therefore, even if the files are encrypted, WhatsApp still depends on aggregating certain information about how you use it.

 

Is WhatsApp a private channel?

Many of WhatsApp’s features make it a private channel – end-to-end encryption means that messages and file exchanges are “private,” that is, between the sender and the recipient. Messages are not stored on the WhatsApp server except for one exception: undelivered messages. WhatsApp uses Wi-Fi to send messages, so sending any message, even international, is free, as it depends on an internet connection and not a mobile service.

But if a message is not sent (for any reason), it is stored on the WhatsApp server until it is successfully delivered. The app does not keep records of who is messaging or calling, as it considers this action a privacy and security risk.

 

Justice asks WhatsApp to adapt the privacy

In May 2022, the Brazilian Public Prosecution Office (MPF) released an opinion requesting Whatsapp to adapt ten points of its privacy. The   report brings the considerations of    three other institutions:   ANPD (National Data Protection Authority), Cade (Administrative Council for Economic Defense), and Senacon (National Consumer Secretariat), of the Ministry of Justice.

The application’s guidelines were updated on May 15 and, since then, the application has had commercial functions that enable the user to have support from Facebook and the entire Meta Group. This change has led to some people being concerned that user data could be shared with Facebook, which the company vehemently denies. However, memories of the case  Cambridge Analytica remain fresh in people’s memories.

Among the main changes to WhatsApp’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy are the sharing of data related to user activity in the application. The company will not have access to the content of the conversations but will be able to access information such as frequent contacts, location, and interactions with business accounts in the app, among others. Much of the MPF’s requests are related to the rules of the General Data Protection Law   (LGPD) , which also aim to contribute to the security of information and privacy of each person.