WhatsApp would decline to comply with requirements in the online security bill that attempted to delinquent end-to-end encryption, the conversation app’s boss has said, throwing the future of the service in the UK in doubt.
Speaking during a UK visit where he will meet lawmakers to examine the government’s flagship internet rule, Will Cathcart, Meta’s head of WhatsApp, said the bill is the most concerning piece of legislation presently being discussed in the western world.
He said: “It’s a great thing to consider about. A way exists to change it in only one part of the world. Some governments have chosen to block it: that’s the reality of shipping a particular product. We’ve just been blocked in Iran, for example. But we’ve never visited a liberal democracy to do that.
“The reality is, our users worldwide want security,” said Cathcart. “Ninety-eight percent of our users are above the UK. They do not like us to lower the product’s security, and just as a specific matter, it would be an odd option for us to lower the product’s security in a way that would affect 98% of users.”
“End-to-end” encryption is used in messaging benefits to prevent anyone but the recipients of a contact from being able to decrypt it. WhatsApp cannot read messages about its usefulness nor yield law enforcement requests to actively hand over notes or pleas to monitor transmissions for child safety or antiterror purposes.
The UK country already has the power to remove encryption, thanks to the 2016 investigatory management act. Still, Cathcart said WhatsApp has never received a legal demand to do so. The online safety bill is a concerning growth of that power because of the “grey zone” in the ruling.
Under the bill, the country or Ofcom could need WhatsApp to apply content moderation policies that would only be possible to comply with by removing end-to-end encryption. If the company declined to do, it could face penalties of up to 4% of its parent company Meta’s annual turnover – unless it tore out of the UK market entirely.
Cathcart said a similar ruling in other jurisdictions, such as the EU’s digital needs act, explicitly supports end-to-end encryption for messaging assistance. He called for equal language to be inserted into the UK bill before it died. “It could make clear that privacy and safety should be considered in the framework, and it could explicitly state that end-to-end encryption should not be carried away. There can be more procedural safeguards, so this can’t just happen alone as a conclusion.”
Although WhatsApp is nicely understood as a messaging app, the business also offers social networking-style features via its “communities” offering, which allows group chats of more than 1,000 users to be grouped to mimic benefits such as Slack and Discord. Those, too, are end-to-end encrypted, but Cathcart argued that the odds of a large gathering causing trouble were slim. “When you get into a set of that size, the relief of one person reporting it is very high, to the period that if there’s something serious going on, it is straightforward for one individual to report it, or easy if somebody is studying it for them to get access.”
The company also officially needs UK users to be older than 16. Still, Cathcart declined to notify parents whose children have an account on the assistance to delete it, saying, “it’s momentous that parents make thoughtful choices.”
The online safety bill is expected to return to parliament this summer. If passed, it will give Ofcom significant new powers as the internet regulator and enable it to need effective content moderation under the penalty of hefty fines.
Meta-owned WhatsApp has said it will go into the UK call if forced to weaken its end-to-end encryption for users underneath the upcoming Online Safety Bill.
In a briefing with journalists, WhatsApp Head Will Cathcart slammed the legislation as the most disturbing set of online rules in the western world, reports Wired.
“We’ve newly been blocked in Iran for the specimen. But we’ve never visited a liberal democracy do that,” Cathcart said in reports.
“Ninety-eight percent of our users are above the UK. It would be an odd option for us to lower the product’s security in a way that would impact those 98 percent of users,” he categorically said.
Cathcart states that the bill could make it harder for WhatsApp and other messaging media to provide end-to-end encryption.
“It’s hard to guess we’re having this conversation around a liberal democracy that might go around people’s capacity to communicate privately,” he told reporters.
A condition in the Online Safety Bill needs tech companies to use “accredited technology” to monitor user messages for child sexual abuse material or CSAM.
According to security researchers, it is only possible to introduce such a measure by breaking end-to-end encryption.
In 2021, Apple submitted plans to scan users’ messages for CSAM but delayed those after facing criticism from security researchers.
The Online Safety Bill also places the onus on Big Tech. Firms that fail to yield with the new regulations could face sentences their annual up to 18 million pounds or 10 percent international turnover, whichever is the highest.
New measures in the law have more demanding and quicker criminal boycotts for tech bosses and new criminal offenses for falsifying and destroying data.
The Online Safety Bill will need social media platforms, search machines, and other apps and websites to let people post their content to protect children, tackle illegal activity, and keep their stated terms and conditions.