We explain when Facebook can get your WhatsApp messages and look at them, and how that works with end-to-end encryption.
You may have wondered if anyone but you and your WhatsApp contact can view them. This is a typical query because to privacy and transparency issues with the messaging software and its owner, Facebook.
Now, because of a report by ProPublica, the issue is back in the news, sowing doubt and uncertainty. This post explains why only “regular” chat participants can see messages. But if someone reports a WhatsApp conversation, Facebook may get some of the messages to look at.
To fully understand the topic, we must first remember how WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption works in general. According to the company, it uses the same encryption protocol as Signal. This is what makes sure that if the messages are intercepted. The messages can’t be read and the bad guy just gets a bunch of random characters.
This is because WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, like that of a lot of other apps, is based on the use of unique keys. These keys are needed to figure out what the messages say. And because they’re only stored on your phone and the phone of the person you’re chatting with, no one else, not even Facebook, can see them. In this official document, you can learn more about how encryption keys work.
WhatsApp messages backs end-to-end encryption
The app has tried to make its end-to-end encryption feature more obvious because of problems with privacy and data sharing. In this way, if you tap on the name of the contact in one of your conversations and then on Encryption, you will find a QR code that lets you check if the public keys of the security mechanism match.
Now, if all WhatsApp messages are encrypted, where does this latest controversy come from? The answer is in the “report contacts” feature, which lets you report a bad conversation so that the company can take action against the user if it turns out they’ve broken its rules.
In this way, WhatsApp says that when a conversation is reported, the company gets “the most recent messages sent by the reported user or group. As well as information about their recent interactions” in order to make a conduct report. WABetaInfo says the last five messages have been sent.
So, how can WhatsApp read the messages if it doesn’t have the decryption keys? When a conversation is reported, the system sends the most recent messages to the company’s moderators and creates a new connection with them that includes new encryption and decryption keys. That is, they are not getting to your messages directly. The screenshot shows that the company says it won’t tell the contact about this action.