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WhatsApp Hits 2 Billion Users, Vows To Protect Encryption

WhatsApp has exceeded over two billion active users across the world, and its leader is now vowing to protect its end-to-end encryption messaging amid surging threats from international governments.

While announcing the milestone, WhatsApp head, Will Cathcart, revealed the app’s global popularity emphasises why the company needs to fight for its users’ right to community through encryption.

Despite encryption being behind Facebook’s complicated ability to make a return on its $21.8 billion acquisition of the messenger service, and that it also sparked conflict with the US government, Cathcart said users demand it.

‘For all of human history, people have been able to communicate privately with each other… And we don’t think that should go away in a modern society,’ Cathcart told the Wall Street Journal.

(EPA/HAYOUNG JEON)

The disclosure made on Wednesday was the first time in two years the company has divulged on WhatsApp’s figures. Cathcart also revealed the messaging service would continue to remain independent from parent company Facebook.

In 2016, the US federal government failed in a bid to force Apple to give it access to encrypted iPhones. It sparked an encryption debate which has now gone global, with governments in Australia, India and the UK all creating legislation that would force tech companies to give governments access to encrypted data.

Last October, US Attorney General William Barr called on Facebook to delay encrypting it’s messaging platforms and instead encouraged the company to develop a plan to police the data in efforts to protect against crimes – including terrorism and sex trafficking.

‘Companies cannot operate with impunity where lives and the safety of our children is at stake,” Barr stated in an open letter.

While Cathcart said WhatsApp was committed to helping law enforcement agencies by providing metadata that could help investigations, end-to-end encryption would remain to keep its users safe.

He said the alleged perpetrators behind the Equifax attack were members of the Chinese military, referring to the hack of 145 million American’s financial and personal data.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, has also come out in support of WhatsApp encryption service, saying its strength in privacy outweighs the negatives.

Cathcart also said that building back doors into WhatsApp’s system, as governments have previously requested, would create an unacceptable risk. He failed to describe how the company would react if they were ordered to create a back door, instead saying he didn’t want to play out hypotheticals.

WhatsApp remains smaller than Facebook, which boasts of more than 2.5 billion users each month, though WhatsApp is used more regularly outside of the US. Overall statistics on user behaviour reveals the majority of Facebook users already use WhatsApp’s encrypted messenger platform.

Cathcart, 36, said he entered the WhatsApp role last March after nine years at Facebook, with certainty the company’s focus on end-to-end encryption and privacy was the right direction, despite regulatory complexities.

He said he would stand by difficult company decisions in the future to protect user privacy and encryption services.

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