Governments nowadays want to keep social media companies under stern supervision. This is done by molding new laws that force companies to share users’ data. But the U.K. government wants to take this to another level. They have been trying to convince/force WhatsApp to comply with launching and integrating an AI tool that will keep tabs on users’ chats.
The intention behind such an AI tool is to curb child sex abuse material sharing via the instant messaging platform. While the intent seems correct, WhatsApp’s CEO feels that it would defeat the purpose of having encrypted chats.
Why did WhatsApp Head Say No To U.K. Govt?
Will Cathcart engaged in a conversation with the BBC and talked about the U.K. government’s plans to identify child sex abuse material on users’ phones. He shared that the government wants them to tone down the E2EE encryption which protects the users’ privacy on the platform. He deemed it as an excessive request that would be unfair to the users of WhatsApp.
Will Cathcart has been a part of Meta for 12 long years and started leading WhatsApp in 2019. He shared that the U.K. government’s proposal wants to read the personal messages of everyone using WhatsApp. Moreover, he felt that was an undue request which would compromise the users’ privacy. Making a change for the U.K. users would send a message that WhatsApp’s E2EE is ineffective and governments can spy on users anytime.
It would be unfair to say that WhatsApp and other social apps/instant messaging apps are used to circulate child sex abuse material. It is a menace that needs to be handled but not at the expense of someone’s privacy. The U.K. government essentially wants to put a feature in the app that would scan for CASM materials on the phone.
E2EE would still work but the feature would flag anyone trying to share such content. However, if an app continuously scans the storage for such material, it could destroy the perception of privacy. No user would want any app to keep scanning their personal files. False positives are also concerns when deploying such a feature. WhatsApp currently has a firm stance on the subject and only time will tell if it bows down to such rules and requests.