WhatsApp encrypting messages ‘end-to-end’ is a big deal because it means that the company itself has decided to run a system in which even it cannot intercept and read messages sent on its own platform.
When you send a message, it can only be ‘unlocked’ by the intended recipient, thanks to a very complex code that took WhatsApp several years to develop. It’s no mean feat to achieve, particularly given that 1 billion people use the service.
This differs to many messaging apps, which only encrypt messages between you and them. This means that your messages are stored on the services servers, usually not permanently, so hypothetically could be accessed and read.
Why has WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption?
Now that WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, it means that they and no party – governments, police, hackers, other users – can intercept and read your messages.
WhatsApp has done this because as a company they believe in your right to have private conversations when you use their service.
Why is end-to-end encryption important?
The reason the decision is getting a lot of attention is because of high profile cases in which communications service providers like Facebook are put upon by authorities to release sensitive personal data.
A high profile case is the FBI asking Apple to unlock an iPhone 5C that was used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, a move which Apple refused, underlining the integral values many large communications companies hold when it comes to personal data, security and encryption.
Does every app have end-to-end encryption?
The short answer is no – but also this is not something to be alarmed about.
WhatsApp’s decision is one of the first of its kind, and is particularly interesting because traditionally smartphone messaging services have played down the importance of security.
Facebook Messenger only encrypts messages between your device and their servers. This means, by law, Facebook could be obliged to divulge private messages. The same applies to Instagram, which Facebook owns, though interestingly, it also owns WhatsApp.