WhatsApp privacy and encryption again under the scanner. According to ProPublica WhatsApp contractors under specific circumstances can be able to read messages sent between users.
ProPublica reports stated WhatsApp employs nearly 1000 contractors via special Facebook software to scan content flagged by companies’ machine learning systems or reported by users.
This content relates with child abuse material to spam, terrorist activity, and beyond.
WhatsApp has always maintained that only senders and recipients are able to see the chats due to end-to-end encryption ever since it made its appearance in 2016. Since then it has been an important marketing tool, though the content review system present does not offer the privacy the Facebook-owned service promises to offer.
WhatsApp’s content review system
According to a ProPublica report, WhatsApp has a review system that allows the company to ban abusive and harmful users from the platform. The users have to initiate this reporting process and when reported by the users, only the offending content along with four previous messages in a thread are sent to WhatsApp.
Moderators are able to view these messages, though they don’t have access to the user’s entire chat library. Even the machine learning system cannot access the chat library. The reviewers can either dismiss the reported message, ban the reported user’s account or place them on a watch list.
The report further mentions some unencrypted info can also be scanned during this process from accounts placed in a “proactive” list can be used to compare them to suspicious practices. The unencrypted info may contain the details of a user’s groups to their phone number, from their status message and unique mobile ID to their battery level or signal strength.
WhatsApp fails to provide clarity regarding the system, Facebook told ProPublica, it believed its content reviewing system isn’t a problem for users. “Based on the feedback we’ve received from users, we’re confident people understand when they make reports to WhatsApp, we receive the content they send us.”
We may expect to see a few changes made, though the company earlier in January announced some data to be shared with Facebook. WhatsApp has altered these plans, the company was also fined $267 million for breaking privacy laws in the EU.