Media report on fellow readers: Are WhatsApp chats really secret?

Status: 08.09.2021 03:24 a.m.

So far, WhatsApp, which belongs to Facebook, has always claimed that all messages are secret. Nobody could read it. The US magazine “ProPublica” has now established that this is not the full truth.

By Marcus Schuler, ARD Studio Los Angeles

The good news is: WhatsApp messages are encrypted. According to the current state of knowledge, conversations can neither be read by WhatsApp, its parent company Facebook, nor by the police and news services.

Peter Elkind, reporter for the respected US website ProPublica, says: The insurances that Facebook and WhatsApp including their boss Mark Zuckerberg have given in the past, namely that no one can read chats on WhatsApp because they are encrypted, this insurance, so Elkind, don’t be correct.

More than 1000 external moderators

As an example, ProPublica author Elkind cites whoever reports a conversation in WhatsApp with another user about offensive content, WhatsApp receives his message unencrypted for reading.

WhatsApp discloses that the last couple of messages have been released for review. But it doesn’t say exactly how many there are. According to our research, there are five. What they don’t say either: an army of maybe 1,000 external content moderators look at the reported chats after an AI system has checked them in advance. ”

These more than 1000 content moderators from WhatsApp are distributed in Austin in the US state of Texas, Dublin in Ireland and Singapore. These people are not WhatsApp employees, but are employed by third-party companies, such as the management consultancy Accenture.

14 euros per hour for the assessment of highly sensitive data

According to the criticism, the Silicon Valley company entrusts some highly sensitive data to the employees of external companies. According to ProPublica, the starting hourly wage for reviewing content is the equivalent of just under 14 euros an hour. The second accusation that ProPublica raises is: WhatsApp collects an unusually large amount of metadata from its users.

Mark Zuckerberg always cites WhatsApp as an example that less and less metadata is needed. In truth, WhatsApp collects more of this data than any other comparable service.

And according to ProPublica, this includes the identity of the sender and recipient, telephone number, profile photo, status message, battery level of the phone, language and time zone as well as associated Facebook accounts.

Abuse on platforms in public light

Facebook announced in a statement to ARD that the reporting function prevented the worst abuse. User data and how companies deal with it is becoming more and more of a major topic in the USA.

Just last week, Apple put a planned scan function of its users’ images on hold. The company wanted to find content about sexual violence against children. The reason for the stop of the new function was massive criticism from experts and civil rights groups.

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