FBI Director Christopher Wray suggested that the tech industry follow the model of the financial services industry. Some of the big banks have created a messaging app with delete capability so to keep the regulators happy, they agreed to save a copy of each message for 7 years.
Lets apply that to the tech industry
Whatsapp currently serves up 55 billion messages plus 4.5 billion photos plus 1 billion videos a day.
iMessage serves up 40 billion messages a day.
Lets assume a message, with overhead is 1,000 bytes, a photo is 3 megabytes and a video is 20 megabytes AND lets ignore every other secure messaging platform. The math is:
(95 billion x 1kB + 4.5 billion x 3mB + 1 billion x 20mB ) x 365 x 7
That equals 33,595,000 Billion bytes per day or
12,262,175,000 billion bytes per year or
85,835, 225,000 billion bytes in 7 years.
That would be 85,000,000,000,000,000,000 characters, if I did the math right. Lets ignore compression for the moment since videos and photos don’t compress and they are the bulk of the disk space.
Assuming a 5 TB disk drive, that would only require 17,167, 045 disk drives to hold the data.
Double that if you would like just one backup copy.
That assumes zero growth during that time, which, as we know, growth is in the double digits per year.
That is a lot of disk drives for someone to buy. And maintain. And pay for the electric and people to keep them running. Roughly the size and cost of the NSA’s Utah data center, which cost about $4 billion to build, estimates say and probably, a hundred million dollars a year to run.
Scale IS a problem here. A big problem.
Lets say you scale that back and say that you only keep messages for a year. Now you only need two and a half million disk drives, assuming zero growth.
If we assume that people don’t keep all their messages, someone else is going to have to and that will be VERY expensive. Even if you build a back door into phones, if people delete their messages, that back door doesn’t help you.
I’m not saying there is no answer, but there is no simple or inexpensive or privacy protecting way.
And, of course, if you force Apple to build a back door into iMessage, some dude in Pakistan will build his own app that doesn’t have a backdoor. Now you have to police every phone on the planet for a long list of apps that changes daily. Again, possible, but not cheap or inexpensive.
NOTE: These numbers are only for examples. They could be off by a factor of 10 in either direction – or more.
Information for this post came from The Washington Post.