WhatsApp boss speaks after Belgium proposes AI use to scan internet chats for grooming videos

Belgian Council Presidency wants to use AI to scan internet chats for grooming & abuses

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Key notes

  • EU proposes mandatory a controversial chat scanning two years ago, but the negotiation is stalled
  • Now, a recently-leaked document suggests that Belgium proposes an alternative
  • WhatsApp head opposes the proposal, citing surveillance and encryption issues
WhatsApp screenshot

WhatsApp, owned by Meta, has long faced privacy concerns. Meta’s complex history with data collection led to a €1.2 billion fine from the EU for privacy violations. But now, with reports that the Belgian Council Presidency wants to mandate user agreement to chat control to automatically scan shared videos and images, the head of WhatsApp has finally addressed the issue.

“The EU proposal to scan people’s private messages is back. This time the proposal is to force everyone to consent to having their photos be scanned and block anyone who does not agree. This is still surveillance and it breaks encryption,” says Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp at Meta.

The saga started a little over years ago when the EU Commission wanted to impose mandatory internet chat monitoring to scan for criminal offenses, as Netzpolitik leaked. The negotiation has gone nowhere as the Parliament classified it as mass surveillance, an illegal practice that’s been combatted in the past decade.

But now, the German publishing reported yet another classified negotiation protocol that Belgium wants to re-open the discussion. The Belgian authority’s new “compromise approach” brings new ideas like limiting chat control to “visual content”, excluding chats and voice notes, and using AI to scan for grooming and abuse materials.

“If a user refuses consent, they can continue to use a service, but cannot upload images and videos,” the minutes of the meeting’s document reads.

“We want the internet to be more secure, but some in the EU keep trying to make it less secure. These attempts to weaken the security of private communications are dangerous and we need a course correction before it’s too late,” Cathcart continues.

Despite initial reservations and requests for clarification, many states, including previously critical ones, now seem to support the new chat control proposals, signaling a potential path for compromise.

Key questions remain unresolved as some countries criticize limiting chat control to images and videos, with Ireland and Denmark calling for text inclusion, and the Netherlands rejecting measures due to high error rates.