Facebook denies report claiming WhatsApp 'undermines' its users' privacy

WhatsApp for Android dark mode
WhatsApp for Android dark mode (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • ProPublica has alleged that WhatsApp messages aren't actually end-to-end encrypted.
  • Facebook apparently "regularly shares" personal information of WhatsApp users with prosecutors.
  • Facebook says the report is based on a misunderstanding.

Facebook has denied a report from ProPublica that claimed it has been lying to users about WhatsApp messages being end-to-end encrypted (via 9to5Mac). The company says the article is based on a misunderstanding, and only those messages that are reported by WhatsApp users are forwarded to the Facebook moderation team.

In a statement sent to Android Central, a WhatsApp spokesperson said:

WhatsApp provides a way for people to report spam or abuse, which includes sharing the most recent messages in a chat. This feature is important for preventing the worst abuse on the internet. We strongly disagree with the notion that accepting reports a user chooses to send us is incompatible with end-to-end encryption.

Per the ProPublica report, over 1,000 contract workers in Austin, Texas, Dublin, and Singapore examine "millions of pieces of users' content." The workers apparently use special Facebook software to go through private messages, photos, and videos reported by users as improper. The messages are then said to be screened by Facebook's artificial intelligence systems.

WhatsApp reviewers gain access to private content when users hit the "report" button on the app, identifying a message as allegedly violating the platform's terms of service. This forwards five messages — the allegedly offending one along with the four previous ones in the exchange, including any images or videos — to WhatsApp in unscrambled form, according to former WhatsApp engineers and moderators. Automated systems then feed these tickets into "reactive" queues for contract workers to assess.

The report further alleges that WhatsApp regularly shares unencrypted records with the U.S. Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies. Signal, which is one of the best Android messaging apps and a popular WhatsApp alternative, is claimed to "intentionally gather much less metadata to avoid incursions on its users' privacy."

Contract workers interviewed by ProPublica told the publication that they are hired and employed by Accenture and are made to sign sweeping non-disclosure agreements. Each reviewer is made to handle more than 600 tickets a day, giving them less than a minute per ticket.

Babu Mohan
News Writer