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WhatsApp starts encrypting messages on Android via TextSecure

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Facebook-owned mobile messaging app WhatsApp has rolled out end-to-end encryption in the most recent update of its Android app.

This essentially means that only the sender and receiver will have access to the messages and WhatsApp won’t be able to decrypt any user text messages even if it’s directed to do so by law enforcement agencies/governments.

The company has partnered with open source mobile security services provider Open Whisper Systems to make use of the latter’s TextSecure protocol for this initiative. Open Whisper is known for developing mobile apps like TextSecure, RedPhone and Signal that allows users to make encrypted calls and send encrypted text messages.

Open Whisper mentions that the encryption is enabled by default for all users however its currently limited to one-on-one messages. It intends to roll out encryption for group chat and media in the future.

It also intends to roll out encryption to other mobile platforms like iOS and Windows Phone among others, though that’s likely to take some time. Open Whisper CTO Moxie Marlinspike told The Verge that the Android integration itself took about six months due to WhatsApp’s large user base.

Once the integration is complete, Open Whisper also plans to offer key verification options in these apps, however the company didn’t disclose any specific information on this.

Impact: Messaging apps like Silent Text and Telegram already offer similar encrypted messaging service, but what makes WhatsApp’s move unprecedented is the scale of implementation. WhatsApp had claimed to have over 600 million monthly active users globally, in August this year, of which about 70 million monthly active users are based in India.

Indian Government’s growing user data requests

Interestingly, this development comes at a time when the requests from the Indian government for online user data and restrict specific content is growing significantly. Earlier this month, Facebook had mentioned that it had restricted access to 4,960 pieces of content in India during the first six months of 2014 (January- June 2014), the highest among all the countries in the world, and a significant increase from 4,765 pieces of content during July-Dec 2013.

India also ranks second in the world, in terms of the total Facebook accounts for which governments have requested information during this period. The Indian government had sent a total 4,559 requests seeking information on 5,958 accounts to Facebook in the first half of 2014, a significant increase from 3,598 requests seeking information on 4,711 accounts during the second half of 2013. Facebook had complied with 50.87% of these requests. More on it here.

(With inputs from Vikas SN)

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