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Facebook, Google, WhatsApp plan to increase encryption of user data

  • Published at 06:41 pm March 14th, 2016

Tech giants including Facebook, Google. Whatsapp and Snapchat – are working on their own increased privacy technology. The Guardian has reported on Monday.

The revelation came at a time when another leading technology company Apple is fighting a legal battle with the US Justice Department over encryption.  

Experts are saying these ongoing projects could antagonise authorities just as much as Apple’s more secure iPhones, which are currently at the centre of the San Bernardino shooting investigation. They also indicate the industry may be willing to back up their public support for Apple with concrete action.

Within weeks, Facebook’s messaging service WhatsApp plans to expand its secure messaging service so that voice calls are also encrypted, in addition to its existing privacy features. The service has some one billion monthly users. Facebook is also considering beefing up security of its own Messenger tool.

Snapchat, the popular ephemeral messaging service, is also working on a secure messaging system and Google is exploring extra uses for the technology behind a long-in-the-works encrypted email project.

Engineers at major technology firms, including Twitter, have explored encrypted messaging products before only to see them never be released because the products can be hard to use – or the companies prioritized more consumer-friendly projects. But they now hope the increased emphasis on encryption means that technology executives view strong privacy tools as a business advantage – not just a marketing pitch.

These new projects began before Apple entered a court battle with the Department of Justice over whether it should help authorities hack into a suspected terrorist’s iPhone. Apple is due to appear in a federal court in California later this month to fight the order.

Polling has shown public opinion in the US and UK is divided over the case.

WhatsApp has been rolling out strong encryption to portions of its users since 2014, making it increasingly difficult for authorities to tap the service’s messages. The issue is personal for founder Jan Koum, who was born in Soviet-era Ukraine.

WhatsApp already offers Android and iPhone users encrypted messaging. In the coming weeks, it plans to offer users encrypted voice calls and encrypted group messages, which would make very difficult for authorities to tap. In the coming weeks, WhatsApp plans to make a formal announcement about its expanded encryption offerings, sources said.

Unlike many encrypted messaging apps, WhatsApp hasn’t pushed the security functions of the service as a selling point to users. Koum, its founder, has said users should be able to expect that security is a given, not a bonus feature.

The specific details of Snapchat’s and Facebook’s projects since both the companies declined to comment.

In 2014, Google announced a project called End to End, which would make it easier to send encrypted emails in such a way that only the sender and recipient could decode them. The project has been slow-going, until in recent months Google employees have shown in renewed interest in the idea, sources said.

However, tech experts are saying since Google sells targeted ads by scanning users’ email, it’ll get tricky if the contents remain encrypted. Many consumers also use Gmail accounts, which include large amounts of free storage, as a sort of online file system, sometimes dating back more than a decade. 

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