Last week, a hacker from the Netherlands claimed to have illustrated a crucial security flaw with the messaging platform WhatsApp. Now, the company has spoken out to “set the record straight.”
“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible,” WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum wrote in a blog post on the app’s website.
Koum stressed the importance of anonymity, reiterating that the app doesn’t ask for its users’ names, email address, birthday, or home address.
“We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the Internet, or collect your GPS location,” Koum wrote. “None of that data has ever been collected or stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that.”
Security concerns regarding WhatsApp have been bubbling over the past several weeks. Last week, IT consultant Bas Bosschert claimed that since WhatsApp backs up messages on a user’s SD memory card, any Android developer could theoretically create a malicious app that requests access the phone’s SD card. This, in theory, would give the developer access to a user’s chat history if the phone owner didn’t carefully read the app’s permissions.
At the end of February, German data protection commissioner Thilo Weichert said that that WhatsApp has a design flaw that could allow intruders to decrypt intercepted messages. Weichert also hinted that WhatsApp could merge its data with Facebook after the social media giant acquired the app for $US19 billion, according to PCWorld.
Koum didn’t directly address the concerns acknowledged by Bosschert or Weichert, however. The WhatsApp co-founder emphasised that privacy matters to the company and its relationship with Facebook wouldn’t change that, but didn’t mention whether or not WhatsApp users’ messages are safe from hackers and intercepters.
“If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it,” Koum wrote. “Our fundamental values and beliefs will not change.”
Here’s Koum’s entire blog post:
Since announcing our upcoming partnership with Facebook, we’ve been truly humbled by how much attention our story has received. As a company, we’re excited to continue focusing on offering as many people as possible the chance to stay connected with friends and loved ones, no matter who they are or where they live.
Unfortunately, there has also been a lot of inaccurate and careless information circulating about what our future partnership would mean for WhatsApp users’ data and privacy.
I’d like to set the record straight.
Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication. For me, this is very personal. I was born in Ukraine, and grew up in the USSR during the 1980s. One of my strongest memories from that time is a phrase I’d frequently hear when my mother was talking on the phone: “This is not a phone conversation; I’ll tell you in person.” The fact that we couldn’t speak freely without the fear that our communications would be monitored by KGB is in part why we moved to the United States when I was a teenager.
Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that.
If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it. Instead, we are forming a partnership that would allow us to continue operating independently and autonomously. Our fundamental values and beliefs will not change. Our principles will not change. Everything that has made WhatsApp the leader in personal messaging will still be in place. Speculation to the contrary isn’t just baseless and unfounded, it’s irresponsible. It has the effect of scaring people into thinking we’re suddenly collecting all kinds of new data. That’s just not true, and it’s important to us that you know that.
Make no mistake: our future partnership with Facebook will not compromise the vision that brought us to this point. Our focus remains on delivering the promise of WhatsApp far and wide, so that people around the world have the freedom to speak their mind without fear.
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