TikTok is not the only platform to have some problems with some countries (and not only).
This time it’s WhatsApp’s turn, the crux of the matter is still privacy, but this time the discourse is in a certain sense the opposite.
Yes, because the Chinese social network has been banned from government devices in the United States, Canada and by the European Commission. Fears are that user data is being stored by ByteDance (owner of TikTok). And they are ready to be handed over to the Beijing government should it request it.
On the contrary, WhatsApp has threatened to leave the UK just in case Meta is forced to reduce the privacy level of the platform’s encrypted messages.
Let’s see the details of the story.
Will WhatsApp leave the UK?
All too easy to say that whoever Brexit hurts…
This time, without a referendum but with a decision taken by the top management of Meta, it would be WhatsApp that wanted to leave the United Kingdom.
The reason? It should be sought in the possible forthcoming request to reduce the level of privacy in encrypted messages, in compliance with the Online Safety Bill.
That is a bill of the UK Parliament designed to improve online security, presented as a draft on 12 May 2021.
The Online Safety Bill is a set of laws that supervises illegal or inappropriate content that the companies directly concerned will be called upon to remove. Failure to comply could lead to fines of up to £18 million or 10% of the company’s annual turnover.
Stop end-to-end encryption?
The sore point of the Online Safety Bill, at least in the eyes of WhatsApp executives, is end-to-end encryption.
That is that obscure thing that we read about from time to time when we send or receive messages on the app, but who knows how many of us know what it is.
In essence, it is an encrypted communication system, for which only those who are communicating via instant messaging can read the messages.
Well: it seems that the Online Safety Bill will cause WhatsApp to apply a new content moderation policy. Which could precisely lead to the removal of end-to-end encryption, to ensure that messages are scanned and, if needed, blocked and reported.
This could be necessary because, according to the UK Government (and some associations that protect minors), end-to-end encryption would not allow to properly protect the little ones online.
To say the instant messaging company didn’t take the news well is an understatement.
Will Cathcart, head of the company within Meta, took the floor. Cathcart has precisely said that, if this scenario materializes, WhatsApp could leave the UK.
“Our users around the world want security. 98% of them are outside the UK, they don’t want to reduce product safety,” said Will Cathcart. And he added: “Recently we were blocked in Iran, for example. We have never seen a liberal democracy do that,” he added.
Signal come WhatsApp
Days ago Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal, had declared that her social network would also be decisively against the possibility of a stop to end-to-end encryption in the UK.
And now there has been a cordial exchange of tweets between Whittaker and Cathcart: it seems that WhatsApp and Signal will fight together over the Online Safety Bill.
So will WhatsApp leave the UK?
Let’s say that, however things go, there is no particular urgency: the bill will probably be re-discussed in the summer months.
In the meantime, the British government has announced that “the Online Safety Bill does not represent a ban on end-to-end encryption”.
And Richard Collard, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said the following: “Experts have shown that it is possible to fight child pornography and child solicitation in end-to-end encrypted environments.”
WhatsApp: more transparency in the EU
Meanwhile, in recent days WhatsApp has made commitments with the EU for the near future. This follows discussions with EU consumer protection authorities and the European Commission.
The app, in accordance with European legislation, will not use user data for advertising purposes and will not share it with third parties.
It will also make notifications about changes to the terms of service and updates less intrusive.