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WhatsApp recently updated its encryption protocol to appease even the most paranoid of users. The so-called end-to-end encryption protocol promises that “only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent.” No one, not even WhatsApp, has access to your content.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the rollout as “an important milestone for the WhatsApp community,” which now totals more than one billion.
The security protocol is described simply on its blog:
When you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us. End-to-end encryption helps make communication via WhatsApp private – sort of like a face-to-face conversation.
The new feature is also available on a wide-variety of mobile platforms, including iPhone, Android, Windows, and more. You can even use the end-to-end encryption feature on WhatsApp Web, the messaging platform designed for PC or Mac.
In addition,WhatsApp says in its FAQ section that the feature is always on:
Important: End-to-end encryption is always activated, provided all parties are using the latest version of WhatsApp. There is no way to turn off end-to-end encryption.
Update to End-to-End Encryption
However, you will have to make sure it is enacted. To do so: Update to the latest version of WhatsApp and have the person or group you’re chatting with do the same. There’s no additional application or feature needed.
To make sure the feature is updated, open the chat and tap on your friend or family members name at the top. You’ll then be taken to their contact info page that displays whether or not your messages are encrypted, as you can see in the highlighted section in the picture below.
If the chats aren’t encrypted, tap on encryption to view the QR code and the unique 60 digit number. WhatsApp says the unique “key” is shared only between message recipients, with each key unique to each chat.
You can then share either the digits or code with your friends or family. If your friend or family members are nearby, you’re in luck. You can scan each other’s code to ensure that your chats are encrpyted. If they’re far off, send them the 60 digit code via SMS, email, etc through the share button on your iPhone, Android, or Windows phone.
That’s it, your chats are now encrypted.
Happy with the Update
Users around the world have expressed delight in the new encryption protocol, saying that the update is a “great move… to protect users.”
Many more people expressed that the new encryption feature is a blow to government “snoopers” who may try to pry on your conversations.
— Paul Phaneuf (@PaulPhaneuf) April 17, 2016
WhatsApp Still Keeps Your Data
Be warned though. According to WhatsApp legal, date and time stamp information is kept on its servers for a short period of time:
WhatsApp may retain date and time stamp information associated with successfully delivered messages and the mobile phone numbers involved in the messages, as well as any other information which WhatsApp is legally compelled to collect. Files that are sent through the WhatsApp Service will reside on our servers after delivery for a short period of time, but are deleted and stripped of any identifiable information within a short period of time in accordance with our general retention policies.
This means that your metadata, or information about your data, is potentially vulnerable to hackers — which is the one issue users have expressed a serious concern about.
What does that mean? It means that revealing information — like where a picture was taken, when it was taken, etc — could be stored on WhatsApp servers for a short period of time. And while the image itself is most likely not present, the information about the image, document, video, etc could be revealing enough for hackers.
In addition, your metadata could also be available to marketing groups, which stands with another recent update that allows for the chat app to “communicate with business and organizations.” This bit of information was made when the app was declared free for all users world-wide, a move that surely made users happy.
— anuncio rocks media (@anuncio_rocks) January 18, 2016
WhatsApp announced with the update that there would be no third party ads or spam, but the vague phrase of “communicating with businesses and organizations” still leaves the gates of interpretation open.
Speculation aside, changes have been made. And most users seem very happy with the update that promises to safeguard your information.
If you’re still concerned you can check out our WhatsApp safety tips on how to further safeguard your photos, videos, and other media content. The tips are easy to use and surely helpful.
You can even read up on the privacy settings or use a completely different app if you still think the service isn’t safe enough. It’s best to always stay up-to-date with WhatsApp to know more about how your data is used.
Are There Reasons to Worry?
Previously, a Dutch developer found that the app’s timeline information was available through a software program called WhatSpy Public, which can apparently “reveal the timeline of a tracked-user’s online status.”
The software’s designer Maikel Zweerink caused a lot of anxiety after proving that he could “spy” on users with his app. In the message he said:
You may think now you’ve set all options to ‘nobody’ [and that] you are safe, privacy-wise, but nevertheless I can still track your moves on WhatsApp.
It has yet to be seen if the app can still track users with the latest end-to-end encryption update. But users be warned: no encryption lock is entirely foolproof.
What do you think? Do you use WhatsApp? Are you concerned with your data while using the app? Does the latest update calm your nerves? Let us know in the comments below.