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Merging Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram: a technical, reputational hurdle

Merging Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram: a technical, reputational hurdleSecure messaging is supposed to be just that—secure. That means no backdoors, strong encryption, private messages staying private, and, for some users, the ability to securely communicate without giving up tons of personal data. So, when news broke that scandal-ridden, online privacy pariah Facebook would expand …

  • 07 Feb 2019
6 min read
Merging Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram: a technical, reputational hurdle
Secure messaging is supposed to be just that—secure. That means no backdoors, strong encryption, private messages staying private, and, for some users, the ability to securely communicate without giving up tons of personal data. So, when news broke that scandal-ridden, online privacy pariah Facebook would expand secure messaging across its Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram apps, a broad community of cryptographers, lawmakers, and users asked: Wait, what? Not only is the technology difficult to implement, the company implementing it has a poor track record with both user privacy and online security. On January 25, the New York Times reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had begun plans to integrate the company’s three messaging platforms into one service, allowing users to potentially communicate with one another across its separate mobile apps. According to the New York Times, Zuckerberg “ordered that the apps all incorporate end-to-end encryption.” The initial response was harsh. Abroad, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, which regulates Facebook in the European Union, immediately asked for an “urgent briefing” from the company, warning that previous data-sharing proposals raised “significant data protection concerns.” In the United States, Democratic Senator Ed Markey for Massachusetts said in a statement: “We cannot allow platform integration to become privacy disintegration.” Cybersecurity technologists swayed between cautious optimism and just plain caution. Some professionals focused on the clear benefits of enabling end-to-end encryption across Facebook’s messaging platforms, emphasizing that any end-to-end encryption is better than none. Former Facebook software engineer Alec Muffet, who led the team that added end-to-end encryption to Facebook Messenger, said on Twitter that the integration plan “clearly maximises the privacy afforded to the greatest [number] of people and is a good idea.” Others questioned Facebook’s motives and reputation, scrutinizing the company’s established business model of hoovering up mass quantities of user data to deliver targeted ads. John Hopkins University Associate Professor and cryptographer Matthew Green said on Twitter that “this move could potentially be good or bad for security/privacy. But given recent history and financial motivations of Facebook, I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on ‘good.’” On January 30, Zuckerberg confirmed the integration plan during a quarterly earnings call. The company hopes to complete the project either this year or in early 2020. It’s going to be an uphill battle. Three applications, one bad reputation Merging three separate messaging apps is easier said than done. In a phone interview, Green said Facebook’s immediate technological hurdle will be integrating “three different systems—one that doesn’t have any end-to-end encryption, one where it’s default, and one with an optional feature.” Currently, the messaging services across WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram have varying degrees of end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp provides default end-to-end encryption, whereas Facebook Messenger provides optional end-to-end encryption if users turn on “Secret Conversations.” Instagram provides no end-to-end
Source: Malware BytesPublished on 2019-02-07
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  • 07 Feb 2019

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