WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart said in an interview with BBC News on Saturday (30) that will not download the security of the application by requirement of government authorities. The statement comes amid the company’s debates against the British government, which, in turn, seeks to gain access to users’ messages to investigate cases of pedophilia on the platform.
Andy Burrows, director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the United Kingdom, criticizes WhatsApp’s position and accuses that type of confidentiality can exacerbate crimes. Cathcart counters these claims by saying that weakening the messaging app’s encryption would be “very foolish.”
For the past decade, the UK has been trying to get the app to hand over messages exchanged by users in criminal investigation cases, but the platform’s end-to-end encryption prevents any entity — including Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company — from being able to view the content.
“They should not ignore the risk that end-to-end encryption could blind them to this content and hamper efforts to catch criminals,” a government spokesperson said. “We continue to work with the technology industry to support the creation of innovative solutions that protect public safety without compromising privacy.”
End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) is a tool used in many applications including Signal, Messenger and Telegram. The technology makes it so that only the person who sent and the person who received a message can view the text. Despite government orders, the WhatsApp is unable to access this data.
With this, only the users involved have the key to decrypt the content on their own devices. While the promise is valid to improve the public’s safety and privacy, the current issues address the mismanagement of crimes that can be solved by tracking and investigating abusers through the app.
According to the WhatsApp leader, accepting the British government’s demands would make the app “less desirable by 98% of its users because of the requirements of only 2%”. In addition, the executive points out that the messenger integrates for a high-precision feature to detect pedophilia through software.
There are techniques that are very effective and have not yet been adopted by the industry, [tais que] they don’t require us to sacrifice everyone’s safety. We report more [conteúdo de abuso sexual infantil] than any other internet service in the world.
Intelligent pedophilia detection follows Apple’s strategy, which, unbeknownst to users, has gone on to test a surveillance feature on photos and videos stored in iCloud. The tool made waves last year after big tech confirmed that it had been practicing this monitoring on its cloud since 2019.
After the backlash of more than 90 groups related to human, civil and digital rights, the company decided to “delay” the public release of this feature.
Burrows speaks of a “balanced agreement” that does not affect adults’ privacy while protecting children, as “two-thirds of currently identified child abuse content is seen in private messages,” as the NSPCC assesses.
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