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Report: Facebook wants to analyze encrypted WhatsApp messages for ads

Facebook has hired a team to analyze encrypted WhatsApp messages without actually decrypting them.

Published onAugust 3, 2021

WhatsApp by Facebook stock photo 8
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
  • Facebook has hired a team of researchers for the purpose of analyzing WhatsApp encryption.
  • The goal would be to have ways to data-mine WhatsApp messages without actually decrypting them.
  • One report alleges that Facebook is doing this for ad purposes.

One of the hallmark features of the chat app WhatsApp is the fact that it has end-to-end encryption. This means only people you’ve given permission can read your messages — which does not include even WhatsApp itself. This should give you the peace of mind that you can say what you want without anyone listening in.

Of course, without access to your chat logs, it’s tricky to data-mine the text to deliver targeted advertisements. This WhatsApp encryption hurdle is something the parent company Facebook is trying to get over. The company has confirmed, per The Information, that it has hired a team of researchers to figure this out.

Related: 8 new features WhatsApp should add from other messaging apps

According to the report, Facebook wants to devise a method of analyzing WhatsApp chats without actually decrypting those chats. This is called “homomorphic encryption.” Theoretically, it would allow Facebook to glean data from chats without violating any individual user’s privacy.

It’s not entirely clear how this would be possible. But, according to The Information, the purpose of the research is exactly what you’d expect: Facebook probably wants to data-mine your WhatsApp chats to deliver targeted advertisements. Unsurprisingly, however, Facebook denied this allegation. It told The Information that it is “too early for us to consider homomorphic encryption for WhatsApp at this time.”

WhatsApp encryption: A new money-maker?

This news comes on the back of several bits of Facebook-related problems. Most recently, Facebook and Apple have been at war when it comes to iPhone privacy. Apple’s iOS 14 allows users to opt-out of ad tracking across all apps. This negatively impacts Facebook’s core business of delivering ads.

Earlier, we saw problems with WhatsApp forcing a new privacy policy on users. The backlash was intense and forced Facebook to delay and alter the rollout multiple times.

When you put these things together, it’s fairly obvious what the likely goal is for Facebook: to figure out new ways to monetize its vast collections of data. But with WhatsApp encryption, it can’t really do it on that particular platform. Homomorphic encryption could help solve this problem.

However, how many WhatsApp users would vacate the platform if this change happens? There was already a huge rush of users to other encrypted platforms such as Telegram and Signal after Facebook updated the WhatsApp privacy policy. Surely, the idea of Facebook “analyzing” encrypted messages on WhatsApp would cause an even larger exodus.

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