In the last week, Meta unveiled a new Chat Lock within their WhatsApp app, allowing users to keep sensitive and intimate conversations in a more safe environment.
By tapping a one-to-one or group conversation, Chat Lock now enables a choice of either password or biometric authentication options. Upon activation, Chat Lock hides the conversation in a separate folder located within the app to keep it discreet and inaccessible from regular conversations in the traditional inbox.
Access to the locked conversation requires a pull-down of the inbox and access via a designated password or biometric verification in either fingerprint or face recognition. This feature has been welcomed by people who require sharing their mobile devices with family members or where access to their chats is compromised by device theft.
In addition to the Chat Lock feature, WhatsApp has unveiled plans to introduce key features over the coming months towards added security. These include the ability to lock conversations on companion devices such as laptops, and extending the protection of sensitive chats across all connected devices.
WhatsApp has also been working on an option for users to utilise custom passwords solely to unlock Chat Lock. the company also have several upcoming features to enhance user privacy and account protection, including Account Protect, Device Verification and Automatic Security Codes.
The move has put Meta at odds with the government, which is a driving force to strengthen protection online – especially for children. Meta and other companies have gone on record to warn that changes in the law to improve online safety would undermine message privacy. As part of Meta’s privacy package, WhatsApp users will be allowed to encrypt their backups, block screenshot ability and make messages disappear automatically.
Mark Zuckerberg and Meta have criticised the Online Safety Bill, along with many companies, pointing out how it seeks to undermine end-to-end encryption that puts the users at ease and that only they have access to the content within. The company had previously given a warning that they would rather cease operations of the app in the UK than risk compromising their privacy.
A government spokesperson insisted companies would not be required to break end-to-end encryption or privately monitor communication and that the government does support strong encryption – but not at the cost of public safety.
The government places a moral duty on tech companies to ensure they are not turning blind eyes to criminality throughout their platforms, and to use a pro-innovative approach that protects children from abuse online, whilst respecting user privacy.
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