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WhatsApp Hits 2B Users, Stands By Privacy

woman messaging on smartphone

Facebook-owned WhatsApp hit a major milestone, surpassing the 2 billion user mark, the company announced in a Wednesday (Feb. 12) blog post, in which it also defended its privacy policy and use of encryption.

“We know that the more we connect, the more we have to protect. As we conduct more of our lives online, protecting our conversations is more important than ever,” the post said. “That is why every private message sent using WhatsApp is secured with end-to-end encryption by default.”

The company maintains that strong encryption “acts like an unbreakable digital lock” that safeguards messaging and protects data from cyber thieves. It said that no one — not even the company — can read messages or hear calls.

“For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry-leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy,” the post said.

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart told The Wall Street Journal that the app’s widening popularity makes it even more critical to have end-to-end encryption, despite the complications regarding revenue, Facebook’s ROI and possible regulatory issues.

“For all of human history, people have been able to communicate privately with each other,” he told the news outlet. “And we don’t think that should go away in a modern society.”

Cathcart said WhatsApp would continue to operate separately from parent company Facebook, which acquired the startup in 2014 for $21.8 billion.

The encryption debate started in 2016 when the U.S. government failed to gain access to Apple’s encrypted iPhones. The discussion has since gone global. Australia, India and the U.K. are developing laws that would force tech companies to turn over encrypted data. 

In October, U.S. Attorney General William Barr stopped Facebook from encrypting all of its messaging platforms until it had a plan to help protect users from criminal activity, like sex trafficking and terrorism.

“Companies cannot operate with impunity where lives and the safety of our children is at stake,” Barr wrote in an open letter.   

In November, Interpol spoke out against strong encryption, saying it protects child sex predators.

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