Attorney General Barr said that he wants an encryption back door and if it compromises your privacy, well, we are not talking about protecting nuclear launch codes. So we know where he stands.
What came as a bit of a surprise is that Facebook says that they are going to build a back door into WhatsApp. Not sure why. Where is the pressure? Who has the compromising pictures? Likely it is just greed. They want to be able to operate in every country and since there are a number – a small number right now – that won’t let them operate without allowing those governments to spy on their users, the simple answer is to cave.
Here is what Facebook says they are going to do. They are not going to, technically, insert a back door. They might even claim this is a service to their users.
Think about this for a moment. Right now WhatsApp cannot read your messages so they can’t target ads at you. If they did know what you are saying, they could use or sell that data to advertisers. That is just one possible use.
They are going to modify their app to do “content moderation”. Content moderation is a covert word for censorship. If China, for example, doesn’t want anyone to say anything bad about Xi, the moderation software will look for people saying bad things about him and stop it.
Since this happens on the user’s device, the encryption is not an issue because the user can decrypt stuff on their device.
Then, to make sure that the government will allow them to operate, they will send any banned content to a central moderation facility (AKA the government censors) to figure out who the local goon squad should come visit.
Obviously, the country can tell Facebook what they want them to look for.
Now say that you decide that you don’t like that and you switch to Signal.
The government could go to Signal and say “if you don’t want to be blocked you have to do content moderation. It has nothing to do with your encryption. Don’t say you can’t do it, because Facebook is doing it”. At that point, privacy is pretty much done with.
It is *possible* that Signal, since it is not a commercial profit making company, might say go for it, block us. That is not great for Signal, but, it might be better than compromising their principles. Who knows.
Any government, no matter how repressive, now has a way to demand that software vendors give the their back door.
Facebook won’t say when this will be deployed – assuming it is not already deployed. Why? Because it might cause their customers to leave and that would, kind of, defeat the purpose. I can already see the handwriting on the wall, so I am working to migrate away from WhatsApp and delete the application.
The total end game here could be to force Apple and Google to add “content moderation” to the operating system. That is really what the repressive regimes like China and other repressive regimes (including, apparently, the US) would like to happen.
Stay tuned. It is not clear how this is going to come down, but we certainly have a roadmap.