FACEBOOK is reading your WhatsApp texts despite claims that chats held on the app are secured from staff, according to a report.
The California tech titan, which owns WhatsApp, sifts through messages, photos and videos that have been flagged as inappropriate by users.
That's despite assurances made by execs when Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19billion in 2014 that user data would not be accessed by either company.
The report published Tuesday by investigative non-profit ProPublica argues that the app, which has two billion users, is not living up that promise.
An army of 1,000 moderators regularly read messages, they on occasion share them with governments to help put people in prison.
"[An] assurance automatically appears on-screen before users send messages: 'No one outside of this chat, not even WhatsApp, can read or listen to them'," ProPublica writes in its report.
"Those assurances are not true. WhatsApp has more than 1,000 contract workers filling floors of office buildings in Austin, Texas, Dublin and Singapore, where they examine millions of pieces of users’ content."
Those contractors, which Facebook acknowledges, use special software to sift through streams of private messages, images and videos.
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The data examined by workers has been reported by WhatsApp users as improper and then screened by Facebook's artificial intelligence systems.
While ProPublica argues that this constitutes and invasion of privacy, Facebook argues that it prevents the "worst abuse on the internet".
WhatsApp is founded on so-called "end-to-end encryption".
It's a way of encoding and decoding messages that ensures what you send can supposedly only be seen by the sender and the receiver.
In testimony to the U.S. Senate in 2018, Zuckerberg claimed: "We don’t see any of the content in WhatsApp."
However, according to the report, when a user reports abuse, unencrypted versions of the message are sent to WhatsApp's moderation contractors.
They largely handle claims of everything from fraud or spam to imagery of child sexual abuse and potential terrorist plotting.
SENT TO PROSECUTORS
In some cases, WhatsApp messages are used to build cases against offenders.
WhatsApp helped prosecutors build a case against whistle-blower Natalie Edwards, a U.S. Treasury Department employee who leaked sensitive documents to Buzzfeed to expose how dirty money flows through banks.
Edwards was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to a conspiracy charge. She began serving her sentence in June.
ProPublica uncovered more than a dozen instances where data from WhatsApp was used to put others in jail since 2017.
Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp, said the news was a non-issue.
"I think we absolutely can have security and safety for people through end-to-end encryption and work with law enforcement to solve crimes," he said.
A WhatsApp spokesperson said: "WhatsApp provides a way for people to report spam or abuse, which includes sharing the most recent messages in a chat.
"This feature is important for preventing the worst abuse on the internet.
"We strongly disagree with the notion that accepting reports a user chooses to send us is incompatible with end-to-end encryption."
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