I’ve spent much of my professional life over the past few years talking about the ills of Facebook and other big tech companies who make their living selling people’s personal information. So, it’s with great shock that I find myself defending one of the most prolific abusers of personal privacy – Facebook
While WhatsApp has offered encrypted messages since 2016, Facebook began offering the option to encrypt Messenger communications this year. In response, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have all requested backdoor access to the platform’s encrypted messages. A backdoor gives governments the encryption keys to peek into your messages at any time.
The argument for government access is an age-old one. Privacy versus security. The government needs to watch everything you do in case you are a child pornographer or a terrorist. However, there are legal ways to subpoena information if there is reasonable suspicion of a crime. But just as you wouldn’t give all the police departments in your state a key to your house so they can come in and look around any time they want, you don’t want to give several governments unrestricted access to everything you say online.
It was easier to agree with Apple when they faced a similar issue in 2016 over the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The US government tried to compel Apple to create a piece of software that would allow them to unlock the terrorist’s phone and any other iPhone in the future. They wanted a key to the backdoor of Apple’s devices, essentially. Apple refused on the grounds that if they give the key to one group, security is compromised on all devices, as that exposure could be exploited by anyone. In the end, the government got a third party to unlock the device only to discover the terrorist had only used the phone for work. No information on the terrorist attack was obtained by breaking the encryption code.
Apple was right to refuse to compromise its encryption, as unlocking encryption defeats the purpose of the technology. In addition, it compromises Apples trust with its customers. Apple has been a consistent supporter of privacy rights. Therefore, it was easy for me to agree with Apple. But this time is harder. Still, I’ll say it.
Facebook is right. We all have a right to private conversations, and in an online world, many of those conversations take place in digital form. That doesn’t mean our right to privacy is forfeited. Privacy, whether in the digital world or the real world, is a human right.
That said, don’t be distracted by Facebook’s seemingly emboldened stance for privacy. Encrypted messaging does not solve Facebook’s larger issues. Facebook’s core business model remains the same – Surveillance Capitalism. That means they are still building deep psychological profiles on users and selling that information to whomever wants to buy it. Even with encryption, we can still look forward to more disinformation from Russia or other foreign entities, election medaling, divisive content, trolling and mass shootings broadcast live on the platform. Refusing to turn over encrypted data to the government is a bit like a tobacco company going after vaping devices. It’s disingenuous propaganda.
However, that doesn’t mean their refusal to give into a backdoor encryption key is wrong. Therefore, you will hear me say it this one time. I agree with Facebook.
But if you really want a “privacy-focused communication platform” as Mark Zuckerberg tried to position his company, then look for a platform built from the ground up to support privacy and end-to-end encryption … like Idka. Privacy is not a mask we wear. It’s in our DNA.
Elizabeth Perry – CMO, Idka