CEO of WhatsApp Discusses Difficulties Over the Past Year

WhatsApp has quickly become synonymous with sending text messages, and in many ways has replaced regular SMSing that would have been sent via telecom networks in the like. However, it is important to note that recent privacy policy changes that WhatsApp attempted to implement resulted in a situation wherein a lot of consumers reacted really negatively especially in massive markets like India which gave WhatsApp competitors like Signal the change to greatly increase their overall user base.

Trying to balance privacy concerns with the need to look out for privacy violations is a real tightrope act for WhatsApp, and in a recent interview the company’s CEO Will Catchcart addressed some of the problems that occurred. One such problem involved the company attempting to use human reviewers to read the last five messages that you might have sent in order to ensure that nothing untoward was happening, and while this would only happen if a report was received about a particular account it raised a lot of concerns regarding what other privacy violations might be occurring in a similar vein.

The first thing that Cathcart talked about was the fact that WhatsApp was providing encryption for message backups for its users. While end to end encryption keeps user conversations private, the same was not true for the backups that users might make for their various messages. This is why WhatsApp created a specialized passcode system so that governments and other entities would never get the chance to access this private date and infringe on the rights of innocent users.

One problem that can occur in this regard has to do with the passcodes themselves. If a user were to forget their passcode, they would essentially no longer be able to access their message backups. This is why WhatsApp turned to hardware. This hardware can be used to store your passcode or key, thereby allowing you to create a simpler passcode that can’t be hacked or cracked and since it exists on hardware that is on your person there won’t be any way for WhatsApp to know about it either.

Cathcart also addressed the fact that human reviewers could see messages from a user that had been reported. Basically, if you report someone or the other, you can include up to five messages from the conversation which would indicate that a terms of use violation had occurred. This might be seen as a privacy violation in some corners. However, Cathcart disagreed with the criticism, saying that if a policy violation had occurred then it is important to allow the reporter to include some context that would help WhatsApp identify what the problem might actually be.

In fact, Cathcart went on to say that the system of reporting that his company has put into place actually benefits the service because of the fact that this is the sort of thing that could potentially end up reducing the amount of spam that would be going around on the platform. He stressed that WhatsApp can only see messages that are reported, and this shows that the platform can’t see messages until and unless a report has been made.

Cathcart’s comments might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is important that he addresses the problems regardless with all things having been considered and taken into account. After all, WhatsApp is a company with two billion users, and maintaining a sense of order can only be accomplished through some form of moderation. As long as WhatsApp respects the privacy of its users there is no reason why anyone should have cause for concern. It will be interesting to see how WhatsApp users respond to this interview.

Photo: Francis Mascarenhas / reuters

Read next: WhatsApp Bites Into Providing The Users With Options To Secure Their Data From Third-Parties
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