On April 5, 2016, WhatsApp published a blog post discussing the app’s latest update, which brings the long awaited end-to-end encryption. Since WhatsApp is one of the most popular online communication platforms on the planet this update is great news for more than a billion global users.
As of today, every attachment, text message, voice memo, photo, video, and even group chat is completely encrypted – meaning that not even WhatsApp can access your communications if they wanted to.
What is end-to-end encryption
To paint a better picture of what end-to-end encryption actually means, consider the following –instead of storing the content of communications in plaintext on their servers, WhatsApp ditches the contents as soon as the message is delivered to the recipient. But end-to-end encryption also means that WhatsApp (or anyone else) wouldn’t be able to read the messages even if they were stored.
Simply put, your messages are secured with a lock, and besides you, only the recipient has the unique key needed to unlock and read them. Extra security is also added with the fact that a new random lock and key are used for each individual message that you send. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about anything – end-to-end encryption is on by default, and everything happens under the hood.
Encryption in messaging apps might not be anything new, but in most cases these apps only do half of the work, commonly only encrypting messages between you and them. WhatsApp takes it a step further – ensuring that nobody other than your intended recipient can read what is sent, even if the message is intercepted.
The team at WhatsApp has been rolling out security services since November 2014 when they first announced end-to-end encryption for text messages sent from Android devices. Today, however, the security project is finally complete, and every user gets to enjoy the sweet privacy that comes in the free update.
If the recent Apple vs the FBI debacle is any indication, the government is likely to take issue with the company’s move, but there’s not much else to be said on the subject. The new encryption makes it impossible for search warrants to be executed, considering WhatsApp will not be able to access any of their users’ communications.
One interesting thing to note, however, is that the WhatsApp privacy notice, in its current state, contradicts today’s release. As of the last update on July 7, 2012 WhatsApp still claims to collect user metadata (phone numbers along with time stamps) as well as to temporarily store sent attachments – albeit stripped of any identifying information. Curious that the notice hasn’t been updated to reflect today’s news, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether or not metadata will still be collected.
Although WhatsApp is still only one of the few messaging giants to implement full end-to-end encryption, it’s likely that more and more companies will follow suit as we continue to digitize our lives.
To wrap up, just a reminder – If you’re one of the many WhatsApp users, make sure to head over to your App Store and download the latest update to take advantage of the added privacy. Keep in mind that in order to take advantage of the encryption your recipients also need to be running the latest version of the app. You can easy see which of your chats are encrypted, so keep an eye out on that “lock” icon until the rest of your friends catch up.