According to Facebook, encrypted messages on WhatsApp cannot be accessed by anyone, nor do the company can get access to them. However, in a clicking report published by a non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, WhatsApp’s encrypted messages aren’t as protected as the company describes them to be.
According to the report, both Facebook and WhatsApp can get access to your private WhatsApp messages, which is in direct disagreement with what Facebook says to the world — that encrypted messages can only be decrypted by the users and the recipients.
ProPublica report notes:
[An] assurance automatically appears on-screen before users send messages: “No one outside of this chat, not even WhatsApp, can read or listen to them.”
Those assurances are not true. WhatsApp has more than 1,000 contract workers filling floors of office buildings in Austin, Texas, Dublin and Singapore, where they examine millions of pieces of users’ content. Seated at computers in pods organized by work assignments, these hourly workers use special Facebook software to sift through streams of private messages, images and videos that have been reported by WhatsApp users as improper and then screened by the company’s artificial intelligence systems. These contractors pass judgment on whatever flashes on their screen — claims of everything from fraud or spam to child porn and potential terrorist plotting — typically in less than a minute […]
Many of the assertions by content moderators working for WhatsApp are echoed by a confidential whistleblower complaint filed last year with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The complaint, which ProPublica obtained, details WhatsApp’s extensive use of outside contractors, artificial intelligence systems and account information to examine user messages, images and videos. It alleges that the company’s claims of protecting users’ privacy are false. “We haven’t seen this complaint,” the company spokesperson said. The SEC has taken no public action on it; an agency spokesperson declined to comment.
In a statement to 9to5Mac, Facebook has clarified that it can view the content of not only the reported messages but also the four preceding messages within the same chat. The four preceding messages are important for content moderators in order the understand the context, which may help in the process of evaluation. The statement also says that reported messages are automatically sent to Facebook for moderation.
Maintaining that neither Facebook nor WhatsApp can view the content of messages that are not reported, WhatsApp has issued a statement, which takes issue with the idea that “accepting reports a user chooses to send us is incompatible with end-to-end encryption.”
WhatsApp provides a way for people to report spam or abuse, which includes sharing the most recent messages in a chat. This feature is important for preventing the worst abuse on the internet. We strongly disagree with the notion that accepting reports a user chooses to send us is incompatible with end-to-end encryption.
The fact that both Facebook and WhatsApp can view the content of the reported messages and four messages preceding messages suggests your WhatsApp messages are encrypted, but the company can break the rules for a good reason.