WhatsApp founders have shun the federal (FBI) order on social media privacy probes by adding an end to end encryption on the online messaging service to protect its users privacy.
It’s been about six weeks since the battle between Apple and the America FBI over a federal order to unlock the iPhone of a mass shooter in U.S.
The company’s staunch refusal triggered a controversial debate over privacy and security in the digital age. But this morning, at a small office in Mountain View, California, three guys (WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton with Coder and cryptographer, Moxie Marlinspike) dropped a freezing ice on the debate.
Mountain View is home to WhatsApp, an online messaging service now owned by tech giant Facebook, that has grown into one of the world’s most important applications.
How the Whatsapp Encryption Works
The encryption is meant to put the messages of a billion people using WhatsApp into codes – if any group of people uses the latest version of Whatsapp, the service will put all messages, phone calls, photos and videos into codes so that conversations between two persons will remain between them, and no one else can gain access to it.
This applies in any phone that runs the app, from iPhone to Android phones to Windows phones to old school Nokia flip phones.
With end-to-end encryption in place, not even WhatsApp’s employees can read the data that is sent across it’s network. In other words, WhatsApp has no way of complying with a court order demanding access to the content of any message, phone call, photo, or video traveling through its service.
Like Apple, WhatsApp is, in practice, stonewalling the federal government, but it’s doing so on a larger front—one that spans roughly a billion devices.
Acton, who was employee number forty-four at Internet giant Yahoo before co-founding WhatsApp in 2009 alongside Koum, one of his old Yahoo colleagues, said;
“Building secure products actually makes for a safer world, (though) many people in law enforcement may not agree with that.”
With encryption, Acton explains, anyone can conduct business or talk to a doctor without worrying about eavesdroppers. With encryption, he says, you can even be a whistle blower—and not worry.
“We’re somewhat lucky here in the United States, where we hope that the checks and balances hold out for many years to come and decades to come. But in a lot of countries you don’t have these checks and balances.
“The argument can be made: Maybe you want to trust the government, but you shouldn’t because you don’t know where things are going to go in the future.”
WhatsApp, more than any company before it, has taken encryption to the masses. What makes this move even more striking is that the company did this with such a tiny group of people. The company employs only about 50 engineers. And it took a team of only 15 of them to bring encryption to the company’s one billion users—a tiny, technologically empowered group of individuals engaging in a new form of asymmetrical resistance to authority, standing up not only to the US government, but all governments.
“Technology is an amplifier, with the right stewards in place, with the right guidance, we can really effect positive change.”