A new crisis in the privacy of the WhatsApp application

A new press investigation revealed control mechanisms used by Facebook to operate the WhatsApp application, in violation of the promises of its president, Mark Zuckerberg, regarding the privacy of users of this application.

“We don’t see any of the content on WhatsApp,” Zuckerberg said, in a speech in the Senate in 2018. message or listen to it.

However, an investigation conducted by ProPublica, based in New York, based on documents, data, and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the company and its contractors, concluded that WhatsApp is less private than many of its two billion users believe. This is the first investigation of its kind that reveals the details and ability of WhatsApp operators to examine messages and user data and examines how they use this information. The site warned that since its acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, Facebook has silently undermined comprehensive security guarantees to users of the application in various ways.

ProPublica pointed out that Facebook's privacy policies towards WhatsApp differ significantly from what it practices in operating the Facebook site and the Instagram application, and it calls for concrete questions because the company has disclosed only a few details about it.

The website's report revealed that a whistleblower who requested anonymity filed a complaint last year with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in which he lied Facebook's statements about WhatsApp privacy and admitted that the operators of this application extensively used third-party contractors, artificial intelligence systems and account data in order to Check messages, photos, and videos exchanged by users of the application.

The committee has not taken any public steps regarding this reporting complaint, while WhatsApp insists it is not aware of it. The site confirmed that more than a thousand retired employees with “WhatsApp” in the company’s offices in Austin (the center of Texas), the Irish capital Dublin and Singapore, are working using Facebook’s software to examine millions of messages, photos, and videos that are exchanged via WhatsApp.

The site explained that the talk is about messages marked by users on WhatsApp stating that they may be abusive, for a wide range of reasons, from fraud and electronic spam ("spam") to the dissemination of child pornography and potential terrorist threats.

The site's report indicated that when the user flags a message as "Potential Abuse", this message and four previous messages from the same dialog are forwarded for examination.

WhatsApp director of communications, Karl Woog, acknowledged to the site that there are contracting teams working to screen those messages from Austin and elsewhere, saying they are working to identify the "worst abusers" and keep them away from the application.

The report stated that these employees deal daily with up to 600 suspicious messages, so they are forced to issue a decision on each one in less than a minute, usually based on vague instructions in some cases.

One of the retirees revealed to the site that he and his colleagues were offered to examine a video clip showing a man holding in his hand what looks like a severed head during a political gathering, and asked them to determine whether this head was real or fake.

The report indicated that these employees are officially working for Accenture and are asked not to disclose their connection to Facebook.

ProPublica noted that the work of these retirees is part of a broader censorship process in which the company, using artificial intelligence, examines the unencrypted data of the sender and his personal account.

In its report, ProPublica paid particular attention to how WhatsApp operators use the metadata of its users.

The investigation concluded that Facebook reduces the amount of data it collects from WhatsApp users and the extent to which it shares this data with US law enforcement agencies.

The report indicated that this metadata that is not subject to encryption may play a prominent role in monitoring people's lives, and quoted the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2014 at Johns Hopkins University: “I quoted people based on the data descriptive".

Despite WhatsApp's pledge to give its users complete control over their metadata, the investigation confirmed that the site's operators collect, analyze and share this data with authorities without informing users of it.

ProPublica noted that it has uncovered at least a dozen cases in which the US Department of Justice requested court orders to obtain metadata from WhatsApp since 2017.

The site stated that the metadata played a major role in the arrest and conviction of former US Treasury official Natalie Edwards, who is accused of leaking confidential bank reports of suspicious financial transfers to BuzzFeed.

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