Originally posted on LinkedIn.
Today WhatsApp announced that it has completed the integration of Open Whisper System’s Signal Protocol and has enabled end-to-end encryption by default for every last one of its 1 billion monthly active users. The feature covers all types of messages sent through the world’s most popular communications app.
What is even more exciting about this new feature is that it is virtually invisible to the end user. The user does not have to think about or even understand security in order to have it enabled. The user does not have to change behavior in order to benefit from it which is no small feat. Maintaining a consistent user experience is of upmost importance for such a popular app.
This news is also huge for privacy advocates and conspiracy theorists everywhere. It would seem that WhatsApp has solved the ”Why Johnny Still Can’t Encrypt” problem](http://arxiv.org/abs/1510.08555) for the masses enabling them to speak without fear of governments listening in. That is, after all, why WhatsApp focused to hard for the lasttwo years on implementing this protocol – to ensure that our civil liberties are protected.
Telegram, Threema, Viber, and Surespot already had end-to-end encryption enabled by default. Didn’t consumers already have ways to protect themselves from government snooping? Is it a complete coincidence that the announcement comes right as encryption is at the forefront of consumer’s minds?
A more important question is – do WhatsApp’s users even care that now their messages are completely secure? That is what we will soon find out. Or at least WhatsApp will.
Unfortunately only WhatsApp will be able to collect all of this data, but that can and will undoubtedly be used to understand the impact of a user’s perception on the security of an application and the impact it has on that user’s behaviors. There is an interesting psychological case study to be done surrounding the introduction of such a feature.
Will more users send more messages of varying types to more people knowing that their messages are safe and secure from prying eyes?
Will users be drawn away from the competitors in the mobile messaging space and into the benevolent arms of WhatsApp?
Will users become more susceptible to the tools they are adding for communicating with businesses because they feel their messages are safer?
In the coming months and years, WhatsApp will acquire the data it needs to answer these questions (oh what I would give to dive into that treasure trove of data). Yes the security benefits are tremendously important, but the data that will be generated as a bi-product of this feature enablement is what will really matter in the long run.
Written by Tim Tutt
Chief Technology Officer, Data Ninja, Technology Enthusiast