MIRROR: Mr. Cathcart, when people in Germany talked about WhatsApp for the past two months, they talked about deleting it and switching to rival apps. What is up?
Cathcart: When we announced new features in January, it was only intended to make it easier for businesses to communicate with WhatsApp users. This obviously caused confusion and anxiety. There are concerns that we might change the privacy of everyone’s private chats. But we absolutely don’t.
MIRROR: As soon as you publish your new privacy policies, messages begin circulating on WhatsApp. People have suggested other messaging apps like Signal, Threema, or Telegram and said WhatsApp would read phone contacts and misuse contacts.
Cathcart: There is a lot of inaccurate or inaccurate information. That’s why we have delayed updates and sent additional information to users directly in WhatsApp. Let me be clear: We cannot read your messages, we cannot listen to your calls. When you send your location via WhatsApp, we don’t know where you are.
“Call it back door, front door or powered hack – all of which would jeopardize the privacy of billions of people around the globe.”
MIRROR: But do you save data about your users like device ID, phone model, WhatsApp username, contacts and through that is the number of all their contacts, too, right?
Cathcart: It is true that we have some information about how people use WhatsApp and we know, such as device IDs. We only collect this information to secure our services and protect against attacks. When you use WhatsApp and allow access to your phone contacts, we only see the phone number, not the name.
MIRROR: Do you share these numbers with your parent company Facebook?
Cathcart: No, we don’t. The updated privacy policies really won’t change anything globally in our ability to share data with Facebook.
MIRROR: Perhaps it adds to the confusion that your terms of service are 11 pages long and your privacy guidelines are 20 pages long. Couldn’t they be easier?
Cathcart: We want to make it clear to everyone, and that also means having some explanation. Because of the amount of feedback from users, we even released additional information.
“Telegram messengers have a copy of your messages, because they don’t encrypt chats by default like we do.”
MIRROR: Apple recently introduced security labels that resemble nutrition labels in terms of what kind of data the app collects and what not. Why don’t you do something similar?
Cathcart: I love the idea of transparency behind Apple’s nutritional labels. However, we find them a little confusing in this case, because all these different apps decide for themselves what information they’re sending. Messenger Telegram has a copy of your messages, as they don’t encrypt chats by default like we do. But I can’t tell it from the information in AppStore. So I think we should be careful not to simplify things to the extent that it doesn’t convey the reality of what’s going on.
MIRROR: How many people left WhatsApp after you notified the update?
Cathcart: We do not publish the details of the number of users, but I can tell you that WhatsApp is still growing. Also in the last two months.
MIRROR: The Messenger app is less regulated than social media companies or other digital businesses. A new German law, if passed, would mean that WhatsApp would have to hand over account data to law enforcement. Do you hand over your customer data to government agencies?
Cathcart: It’s correct. It is clear that we scrutinize any request that goes against mandatory legal process and human rights standards. Under the appropriate legal process in Germany, we may transfer, for example, a suspect’s IP address, username or profile photo. However, I am concerned that another surveillance law Germany intends to pass could force messaging apps and email providers to actively help government agencies put malware on client devices. their goods. (Ed’s: Cathcart is referring to a change to the Verfassungsschutzrecht law.)
MIRROR: The government says it needs this technology to read messages from terrorists at a time before they are encrypted on their phones. What’s wrong with that?
Cathcart: We fully think there should be some cooperation with law enforcement. But what the government is asking for here will undermine the security of all our users. The way our encryption works is even if we can’t read your message. We do not have the key to decrypt them.
MIRROR: So you don’t want to build a backdoor into WhatsApp?
Cathcart: Call it back door, front door, or powered hack – all of which would jeopardize the privacy of billions of people around the globe. You cannot build such access for some governments without giving hackers and global bad guys access to private messages.
MIRROR: To some, it might be a bit surprising that a company under Facebook argues tightly about privacy.
Cathcart: What is more surprising, I think, is that laws like this come out of Germany, which has a strong reputation and track record of data protection. I want to see the government pass legislation to increase encryption and not undermine it.
MIRROR: Under Germany’s leadership, the European Union has drafted a plan to allow encryption to be broken in some individual cases. This will only work if companies like yours cooperate. Did German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer call you about this?
Cathcart: No, we have not received the call. But we will forever be committed to end-to-end encryption – that won’t change. Messages can only be decrypted privately on one’s device, nowhere else. Ever since we introduced end-to-end coding almost five years ago, we’ve been very clear on this subject. These German government plans would violate Article 10 of the German constitution, which guarantees privacy of people’s communications, digitally as well as in the real world.
MIRROR: Some governments are buying spyware from companies that can target individual users. You alleged that one of those providers, NSO Group, developed software for tracking WhatsApp users. What is this program capable of?
Cathcart: Products like these are terrifying. They can turn on the camera on the phone remotely, they can track your location. These tools are being sold to governments not using them for legitimate purposes but to spy on human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents.
MIRROR: How do you plan to protect against such attacks in the future?
Cathcart: When we heard about a security vulnerability, it became clear that we fixed it right away. And we sued NSO Group, because we believe their behavior is out of control. Usually, these companies are exploiting vulnerabilities directly in phones. Governments should ensure that these vulnerabilities are being patched – they should not use them themselves.
MIRROR: Has Pandemic changed what your users are doing on WhatsApp?
Cathcart: Yes, we are seeing more video calls. WhatsApp for Desktop is also increasingly used. And we’re seeing that the WhatsApp business, our products for companies, is used more frequently. When people can’t get to the store or when they don’t want to wait on the phone, it can be a good way to talk directly to companies.
MIRROR: A pandemic has also led to an epidemic. A lot of false information about viruses is shared on social networks and directly in messaging apps. For example, one WhatsApp chain letter alleges that the RNA vaccines control genes. What do you do against such dangerous misinformation?
Cathcart: We don’t want WhatsApp to be a platform for spreading information to many groups of people. We want it to be a place for private communication.
MIRROR: How can you be sure about that?
Cathcart: Highly forwarded messages can only be forwarded to a chat since last spring. That leads to a 70% reduction in these messages. More recently, we’re also showing you a link to a Google search for those notices, to allow you to check the facts live.
MIRROR: Digital platforms have increasingly faced antitrust lawsuits in recent months. WhatsApp has a dominant position in the messaging market, but has not had any antitrust cases in this area yet this year. Are you afraid that might change?
Cathcart: As the head of WhatsApp, I feel that we have a lot of competition. There are a lot of messengers that people obviously also love to download and try. I’m sure that if we don’t do our job well, our users will convert quickly.
“Our goal is to make sending money globally as easy as sending messages on WhatsApp.”
MIRROR: Using the WeChat messaging program, I was able to make payments in stores across China. When can i pay using WhatsApp?
Cathcart: In India, we already offer the rupee payment option and we are planning the same thing in Brazil. I can’t say when you can pay using WhatsApp in Germany.
MIRROR: Still working on your own digital currency?
Cathcart: It’s correct. Together with the Diem Association, Facebook is growing on Diem, a so-called “stable currency”. The project is widely known under the name Libra. We would love to integrate such a digital currency into WhatsApp. Our goal is to make sending money globally as easy as sending messages on WhatsApp. But we haven’t.