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The Startup

Is End-to-End Encryption a Myth?

Photo by Rachit Tank on Unsplash

I will be shocked if someone tells me that they have a smartphone and does not use WhatsApp!

As per the ‘Business of Apps’ website, this pandemic gave WhatsApp an exponential rise in their app usage. For example, the last organization where I worked as a Product Manager never considered WhatsApp an authentic communication source because they were worried about the data breaches.

Still, in lockdown, when everyone is forced to ‘work from home,’ they had to move all their business discussions over this platform, and it became their official mode of communication.

Not only for corporates

It also became a single source of communication for school teachers to interact with their students, and they now have groups for each class, course, and section.

After the official launch of ‘WhatsApp Business,’ it has become the most accessible and fastest way for the B2C (business-to-consumer) companies to reach their consumers as it’s available for everyone.

In India, we even have a unique brand name called “WhatsApp Phone,” which means that people are not interested in any specific brand, rather they are interested in whether that phone supports WhatsApp.

Interestingly in my country, the mobile sellers pre-install the app on phones before handing it over to the customers.

WhatsApp on TV?

Last month, when I was watching TV with my mom, and at primetime, a WhatsApp advertisement appeared on a sports channel. I still remember her reaction when she asked,

“Why do WhatsApp need to show an advertisement on TV? Everybody knows about them”.

Mind you, she’s a principal in school and fairly understands the negative effects of social media on children. She always speaks against these apps because she considers them a ‘modern age menace’ to our society. Since she was so impressed by WhatsApp’s popularity, it really made me think about her question about why they require an ad.?

It soon appeared on the OTT platforms as well, including Facebook and Instagram.

The world’s largest messaging app, which has at least 200 million users in India, launched its first-ever TV and brand campaign. What’s the reason and strategy behind it?

The Facebook-owned company has produced three video ads. When I dug deep into the topic, I realized that their tag lines like “dangers of fake news, bogus forwarded messages, encrypted messages” focus on educating Indians and prove that WhatsApp is absolutely safe.

I didn’t care about their other campaign themes or the tag lines, but the “encryption” part got my attention. As per their company policies, they assure their users' privacy via an end-to-end encryption feature. All the conversations, jokes, and memories that belong to users deserve to stay between them.

I remember that Mark Zuckerberg was recently scrutinized by US Congress over privacy issues and was grilled for their voting role. Do I trust Facebook (which now owns WhatsApp) for not using the easily available data that they get through our chats? My answer is a big “No.”

I was always curious to know why WhatsApp is free and that too adless.

As per official reports, WhatsApp is un-profitable even after five years when Facebook acquired it for USD 19 billion. As per the documentary “Social Dilemma” on Netflix, these social media apps listen to everything we say and whom we talk to.

It uses our messages to accurately predict the ideas regarding the mood we are in, our plans to buy clothes for an upcoming event, or the places we will go for the next holiday. As a company whose source of income is ad revenue, this is a gold mine for them.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I became more suspicious when I heard the news about a Bollywood celebrity Sushant Singh Rajput’s controversial chats with his girlfriend leaked over the internet. As per reports, the investigative agencies accessed the alleged chats between the actors using the ‘mobile phone cloning’ technique.

A cloned phone can access WhatsApp back-up chats, which are not encrypted, from wherever they are stored, Google Drive or iCloud.

Wait. What?

The cloning technique? But I read something else that said :

“WhatsApp protects your messages with end-to-end encryption so that only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between can access it, not even WhatsApp.”

But the news also said that the Law Enforcement Agencies with a warrant could use digital tools to break the app’s security. Now, I am confused.

Should I believe Mark Zuckerberg or the internet where I can see the private leaked chats of celebrities? It seems like nobody has an answer to this, or nobody wants to explain this million-dollar controversial question because, in developing nations, normal citizens do not even care about data privacy unless a monetary aspect is not associated with it.

But now, I clearly understand the strategy behind WhatsApp’s digital campaigning at primetime on every TV channel in India. However, I am still perplexed about explaining to my mom, “Why WhatsApp needs to advertise when everyone already uses it.”

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Simranjot Singh

Simranjot Singh

An engineer by peer pressure, corporate professional by parent’s expectations & product designer by passion. I tell stories with a tinch of intellectualness.