Have you ever posted something into WhatsApp and then mysteriously seen an ad about exactly that thing soon after? That shouldn't be possible given your messages are encrypted and invisible to anyone except the recipient, right? Could it just be an amazing coincidence then?

Possibly not. It seems that Facebook is 'wiretapping' everything you say in WhatsApp: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2019/07/26/the-encryption-debate-is-over-dead-at-the-hands-of-facebook/

End to end encryption gives a false sense of security anyway

It would be dangerous to think end to end encryption gives you much privacy or security even if Facebook didn't have access to everything you say. Among other things:

  • If anyone in your WhatsApp group backs up their chat (e.g. to iCloud, Google Drive etc.) - which many people do - then none of that is encrypted.
  • If anyone in your WhatsApp group exports the group chat, that is in plain text and not encrypted and includes your mobile number.
  • WhatsApp (and Facebook) have been hacked many times including recently.
  • Governments are increasingly moving towards legislation that will give them access to your chat in unencrypted form (various ways they can do this e.g. force handset manufacturers to 'tap' your conversations) - for example Germany, Australia.

What's the solution to the conflict between moderation and privacy?

Facebook does face an apparently unresolvable conflict between trying to make services private/secure on the one hand and being held to account for moderating 'bad actor' content (terrorists, hate speech, bullying etc.) on the other. To do the latter they have to have access to the actual content.

It seems likely that the solution will be to move towards a position where Facebook, and other big tech companies, try and keep out 'bad actors' but give access to data for 'approved actors' - most obviously Facebook themselves, but also governments and anyone else they have to by law. That will almost certainly include security services.

In a happy coincidence for Facebook that also means that ads can still be targeted based on what you say (spoken or written) even if 'anonymous'.

Secrecy and anonymity vs. authenticity and presence

Whilst apps like Signal and Telegram might shield you from ads and Facebook prying they face the same challenges outlined earlier, not to mention the obvious fact that is usually other humans, not technology, who will compromise your privacy/security e.g. by 'leaking' what you say (happens a lot with politicians).

Many apps, including the general stated direction for Facebook, are moving towards secrecy and anonymity in an attempt to be more 'private'. But this can be socially corrosive and damaging as participants are less accountable.

We at Guild are very committed to privacy but we also believe in humanising technology and creating real professional communities of trust. And that requires people being present as themselves. Secrecy and anonymity might be desirable if you are saying things you shouldn't but Guild isn't about that. Guild is about professionals connecting, communicating and collaborating in a private, quality-controlled, ad-free, environment.

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Guild is free to use up to 30 members, across as many groups as you want. Just click on 'Start Free' on the Basic Plan on our pricing page now to set up your free account and start inviting people in. Contact us if you want to know more or have questions.