Like most people, I am concerned about my online privacy, and that of the people who use our app on a daily basis. During 2018, digital privacy became a hot button issue due to the multiple Facebook privacy breach stories and GDPR, the new privacy regulations issued by the EU.
When I marked my first year at Viber last December, I took on the responsibility of advocating for the privacy and security of our user’s personal information. This issue is critical for me, so much so in fact, that I decided to make it my New Year’s resolution for 2018.
Looking back at the year we had, I want to share how we turned attention to privacy from a wish into a reality during 2018, and specifically how we raised the bar on privacy at Viber versus the rest of the industry.
My messages are for my eyes only
It is a basic right that a private conversation remains private between participants. If you sit down at a coffee place with a friend for an intimate chat, you don’t expect the coffee house owner to listen in on your conversation. That should be same for your private chats and calls over messaging apps.
I want to ensure that none other than me and the people I chat with can see my private messages or hear my phone calls. End-to-end encryption, by default, is the only way to make sure that this privacy is a reality. This ensures that only the people involved in a conversation have the keys to decrypt the content of the chat. Again, default is the key word here.
Beyond simply encrypting chats, it is also important that chats are not stored anywhere. They must not be accessed and read by others at some point in the future without my permission. So, I want to know that the chat app I use doesn’t save my content on their servers for ever.
Control over my personal data
My data is my data. Pretty simple, no? But in today’s world it’s more complicated. Apps and services gather endless information about us online, in many cases without our knowledge or educated consent.
First, I want to know exactly what pieces of my data are being stored on any online apps I use. I want the apps I use to allow me to request and access the data they’ve collected.
Once I have seen what data an app may have about me, I want to be able to delete that data so that my history or data that is no longer relevant does not exist on the app — and therefore cannot be used in any context without my consent. And I want to be able to check access, get historical data or delete it in less than 15 seconds, not after an intensive search of 20 minutes at the bottom of the settings section.
Know where or by whom my data is used
Content personalization is useful. It ensures that the content I see on apps is relevant to me, and makes sure that what gets through is useful. But I want to be able to decide what services can use my information. The decision and control should be mine.
It’s important to me to have control over content personalization, or whether my physical location is used when I am on the app.
My online presence is not necessarily a public presence. I want control over what information about me is seen by other users. It’s my choice if other people know when I am online, or whether I have read their messages to me.
Clean my content history
I don’t like spelling errors. It happens to me every day of course, especially when typing on a smartphone keyboard. But I like to correct myself and leave clean content in my chats. So editing a message to correct it even after it has been sent, while still encrypted, is an extremely useful feature.
And sometimes I want to delete an entire message because it went to the wrong person or it’s not necessary anymore or I regret my words from last night! So allowing me to delete a message after it has been sent, on my device and all the devices who received it, is a great feature, as long as it is clear for everyone that a message has been deleted.
How did we perform in 2018 regarding all these wishes?
As I said above, this list is just a basic standard for what everyone should be aware of when using an online service to manage their private conversations and transfer data. With these goals in mind, we have built a list of priorities for privacy and security features on Viber.
During 2018, these were our guiding principles when making Viber the most secure and private messaging app in the world — your chats and calls are kept just between you and your friends and family.
In 2018, by opening all those features to our users, we made Viber the industry leader and standard setter in online privacy and security. But we also demonstrated there is an alternative to the “zero privacy to personalize ads policy” that another company claims to be the only way to monetize their service. I look forward to seeing what more we can do in 2019.