WhatsApp is Launching End-to-End Encrypted Communities

Zuckerberg-owned company Meta announced a brand new update to WhatsApp, called Communities. The new feature will allow people to bunch various groups together within one bigger group, or community. Imagine something like Slack or Discord, where you can create various smaller groups but they’re all sorted under one umbrella.

WhatsApp is also releasing a list of new features, including voice calls for up to 32 users and emoji reactions. The company is increasing file-sharing capacity on WhatsApp to 2GB and providing more admin privileges. For example, admins will now also have the ability to delete other people’s messages, both in regular groups and in Communities.

Phone on a green background with WhatsApp open showing upcoming features  

This expansion is part of Meta’s continued drive to either adopt popular social media platforms into the fold or replicate their features. Meta (then Facebook) acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 when they started to look like strong competition. It also appropriated various features from Snapchat, like Stories and filters, after the company refused to join the fold.

Bringing Communities Together

By now, everyone’s well aware that the way we work and communicate has drastically changed. Messaging tools like Slack have taken center stage for communication between employees at many companies. Discord is also a popular go-to option for gamers and hobbyists who want more privacy and control when chatting in their communities.

“It’s been clear for a while that the way we communicate online is changing. Most of us use social networks and feeds to discover interesting content and stay updated. But for a deeper level of interaction, messaging has become the center of our digital lives. It’s more intimate and private, and with encryption, it’s more secure too,” Mark Zuckerberg Meta CEO wrote on his public Facebook wall.

Telegram, for example, has become massively popular overnight thanks to its ability to connect groups of people in more intimate conversations. WhatsApp hopes to draw some of these crowds with its Communities feature. Unlike Telegram, though, WhatsApp’s Communities aren’t open to anyone as you have to be invited by a group administrator.

According to a recent announcement from WhatsApp, admins can also create messages that are sent to everyone under a community’s umbrella. Sometimes you’ll want to exclude some people from that list, though, so admins have control over which groups are included. WhatsApp will release these and other new features in beta first, which means you might not get it for a while yet.

A Promise of Security Built on an Unstable Foundation

WhatsApp screen with a padlock above an explanation of the app's security features  

Communities, like all WhatsApp communication, will be end-to-end encrypted, but experts have raised questions about Meta’s credibility. Besides Facebook’s streak of privacy violations, WhatsApp has also come under fire for its message moderation. In September 2021, ProPublica published a report that called attention to WhatsApp’s ability to see messages when they’re flagged or sent to a business account.

According to WhatsApp, its moderators are able to see messages its users flag as well as the previous 4 messages for context. Besides the fact that moderation on a private messaging platform is an oxymoron, it also brings WhatsApp’s promised encryption into question.

If WhatsApp is able to circumvent the encryption when messages are flagged, what’s stopping the company from seeing them any time? At this point, no one can confirm how WhatsApp can see the messages. That means the app either copies the messages into the report it sends or WhatsApp moderators are able to access the messages some other way.

On top of that, WhatsApp still gathers various metadata about its users. Personal data like account names, when you send and receive messages, and your IP address is stored on WhatsApp’s servers. That data can be used to discover your identity and even your location.

Meta doesn’t have the best track record with keeping data secure either. The company has been involved in numerous data breach scandals. Some of these breaches were caused by outside hackers and some involved data the company sold to third parties. Given that shaky foundation, many question the validity of WhatsApp’s “privacy and security” promise.

WhatsApp Users Choose: Trust or Security

 

WhatsApp officially stands by the statement that it can only view messages when they’re reported. Yet if its AI and human moderators have the ability to view end-to-end encrypted messages, then it’s more a matter of trust than inability. Users also have no guarantee that this, along with their meta-data won’t be sold to or stolen by third parties.

Regardless of the claims that WhatsApp (or any platform) makes, cybersecurity experts suggest you should consider the data you share with companies as their property. That’s why good cybersecurity practice includes limiting the amount of data you share. It also prescribes that you should take measures to protect your data instead of relying on blind trust.

CyberGhost VPN doesn’t rely on trust, but rather on military-grade 256-bit encryption, quarterly transparency reports, and regular audits. We outright own and operate our own NoSpy servers, which means no outsiders have access to them. Our RAM servers are also more secure than servers that use hard drive storage because they don’t store long-term memory.

After you connect to a CyberGhost VPN server, your connection is encrypted before it reaches WhatsApp’s servers. It won’t keep WhatsApp moderators from seeing your private messages but will prevent Meta from tracking other meta-data, like your IP address. That means the company can’t use that information to identify or locate you, or track you across the web.

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