WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging services worldwide. Unfortunately for British users, however, the app may soon cease to be available in the UK. In 2014 Meta (formerly Facebook) purchased the messaging service app for $19 billion. Now Will Cathcart, who heads WhatsApp at Meta, is saying he would rather the app be unavailable in the UK than loosen its security to comply with the UK government’s new Online Safety Bill.
“The bill provides for technology notices requiring communication providers to take away end-to-end encryption – to break it. The hard reality is we offer a global product,” Cathcart told The Telegraph. “It would be a very hard decision for us to make a change where 100 percent of our users lower their security.”
According to the new Online Safety Bill, the police will be able to access encrypted messages on messaging apps. This means WhatsApp would have to do away with its end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone other than the sender and recipient from viewing a message. Therefore its removal would decrease WhatsApp’s security.
Whilst WhatsApp is concerned with users’ privacy, the UK government states that encrypted messaging makes it more challenging to discern online abuse.
“We support strong encryption, but it cannot come at the expense of protecting children from exploitation. End-to-end encryption cannot be allowed to hamper efforts to catch perpetrators of the most serious crimes,” a government spokesperson said.
Said spokesperson also stated that the Online Safety Bill will allow Ofcom to direct messaging and other types of platforms when necessary to combat child sexual abuse.
“We remain committed to continuing to work with the tech industry to develop innovative solutions that protect public safety and privacy,” they added.
Staying Safe Online
With the growth of the metaverse come increasing concerns for user safety online. Earlier this year, Meta was fined for allowing teen users to run business accounts and publicly share personal information. In January, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office investigated the Quest 2 VR headset over alleged safety code breaches.
Image – Mika Baumeister