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WhatsApp launches privacy campaign

WhatsApp has launched its first ever privacy focused advertising campaign in the UK.

It follows a recent customer backlash against changes to its terms and conditions, which were announced earlier this year. The platform also said it is standing firm against government pressure, including the UK government, to compromise on the way it’s in crypts messages.

WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart said that authorities should “demand more security” rather than 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,” he said. “They should be out there trying to encourage or even mandate that companies offer the strongest possible security.”

Why have WhatsApp started the campaign?

The new campaign is set to run internationally, beginning in the UK and Germany from today. WhatsApp uses end to end encryption, which means messages can only be read on the device which sends it and the device that receives it. WhatsApp its self, and by default its parent company, Facebook, cannot view or intercept them and neither can law enforcement.

UK home secretary Priti Patel has describe the use of end to end encryption as “not acceptable” in the fight against sharing of illegal content. In a recent speech she said she wanted to see it used “in a way in which it is also consistent with public protection and child safety” but did not say how she thought this might work.

Facebook has recently said it intends to roll out encryption more broadly across its other services.

WhatsApp is already blocked in mainland China and it is suing the Indian government over new digital rules which will force it to violate its own privacy protections. Around 20% of WhatsApp is global users are from India. That is around 400 million of its 2 billion global users.

Fighting against illegal content

While WhatsApp cannot see the content of messages, it has developed other tools which help it block illegal material and widely shared to misinformation. WhatsApp currently claim to ban around 2 million accounts each month and in 2020 the platform reported 300,000 images to the National Centre for missing exploited children, Mr Cathcart said.

It does this with a combination of reports direct from message recipients and machine learning AI using the unencrypted data that WhatsApp can see, such as the volume of messages and account sends and how many groups it may join. Messages that have been forwarded lots of times before may be flagged and limits to the amount of users a message can be sent to in any given time have been added.

In January, thousands of WhatsApp users threatened to leave the service, wrongly thinking it was going to start sharing message data with Facebook following an announcement about changes to its terms and conditions. Those who did not accept the updates would begin to lose functionality over time, claims.N

They were false claims that the privacy of personal messages was about to change, and thousands of alarmed people left for arrival services such as signal or telegram. In reality the changes were mainly related to enabling companies to accept payments via WhatsApp. Will Cathcart said the firm took responsibility for the confusion that the announcement had created and ensured that nothing about the privacy of peoples personal conversation would change with these updates.