Whatsapp’s introduction of end-to-end encryption is a clear reaction to government intrusion and a major boost to users’ privacy. It’s a bold move and deserves a showering of plaudits. Behind the scenes though, it’s Facebook that’s quietly profiting from this change.

As part of the Facebook network of services (which includes InstagramMoves and Oculus Rift), an improvement of user trust in Whatsapp could reverberate across the whole network. By displaying its ambition to defend individual rights, Facebook and its group of services have recorded a win.

Declining trust is hurting everyone

As users accept terms of service agreements, the expectation is that social networks or apps will, in return for our most personal information, guard our data. Courts don’t always follow this assumption though, as demonstrated by Brazil’s temporary ban of Whatsapp for refusing to hand over user details. Combine this kind of decision with Edward Snowden’s revelations and it creates a common belief that life online is not necessarily secure.

Not only is this decline in trust bad for consumers, it’s damaging to the platforms who encourage users to share their personal thoughts, media and relationships online. It’s heartening to see Whatsapp making moves to reverse this erosion of confidence.

Snapchat gives users what they want

Since 2011, Snapchat has increasingly filled the void of trust that surrounded Facebook and Google. A key selling point of the app is that its private encrypted messages are deleted after viewing. This feature particularly appeals to younger users who understandably want to keep the saucier details of their private life from their family, colleagues and employers, all of whom are increasingly present in their Facebook networks.

Snapchat did fall foul of America’s FTC for making misleading security claims. However, relative to Facebook, it has been perceived as a more secure platform for personal posts by packaging security into a fun and accessible product. Users voted with their fingers. If an app is light, fun and secure, then they will use it.

Facebook and Whatsapp are sharing more

Facebook, which bought Whatsapp in 2014, has noted the calls for increased user protection and acted decisively by introducing end-to-end encryption. It’s a PR coup for the social media behemoth to be championing the public’s interests while simultaneously meeting a service demand to their platform.

It’s interesting to note that, while Whatsapp is limiting external access, data sharing between the Facebook owned services is increasing. Oculus Rift’s privacy policy includes a provision to use information stored on device’s hard drive and audio recorded from the microphone, even when the device is off, for marketing purposes. A similar data sharing arrangement between Whatsapp and Facebook is also on the cards. Users should expect more dramatic revisions to terms of service agreements as platforms aim to cross-pollinate their data.

While more information is good news for marketers, who will appreciate the diversity of sources that feed targeting networks, it’s also likely that social media users will see improved external security throughout the Facebook owned services. However, Mark Zuckerberg’s platforms need to be careful not to undo the positive feeling generated by Whatsapp’s end-to-end encryption by overzealously sharing data between their network.

Have security fears changed your online behaviour or will you share personal posts regardless?


Written by James Pullin