Statement | Facebook and WhatsApp have misled users on privacy, must take steps to restore faith

When WhatsApp is loading on your device, the message under a thin green bar reads: End-to-end encrypted. WhatsApp has centred all of its communication campaign around complete privacy and repeatedly assured its users that all messages on the platform are end-to-end encrypted – and absolutely no one, not even WhatsApp itself, has access to them. In the light of the ProPublica investigation that the company has, in fact, an extensive monitoring operation and regularly shares personal information with prosecutors, the marketing exercise by WhatsApp reeks of subterfuge and comes across as an act of bad faith.

As a practice, companies ought to communicate their policies clearly to their users and omitting a critical portion of it – like the fact that Facebook can access the users’ chats if it wishes to – is a clear case of subterfuge. What makes it even more troubling is that the Facebook CEO deposed before the US Senate that no such sharing of data was taking place. That act could be viewed as perjury at worst and incompetence at best – neither or which augurs well for the company in terms of being a trustworthy good-faith operator.

Even if Facebook’s claim that it reads user’s WhatsApp messages only when spam or abuse is reported is true, it still does not address the underlying issue that users have been clearly misled to believe that the much-touted end-to-end encryption provides them with complete privacy. On every count, WA/FB stands in clear violation of good faith and ethical principles.

A public account of the internal processes adopted, the extent to which monitoring has happened and intimating users about the instances and chats that were accessed by the company for what purpose would be a clear step in restoring faith and confidence. Even in such a scenario, would WA commit enough marketing dollars to such a communication exercise is also anybody’s guess.