A recent report by ProPublica has raised questions on the privacy and security features of WhatsApp. In response, parent company Facebook has said that the report is based on a misunderstanding, flatly denying the original report’s claims that FB lied to users about end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp.
Facebook said that the moderation teams only receive messages which the users mark as inappropriate. ProPublica claimed that more than 1,000 contract workers from Austin, Texas; Dublin, Ireland; and Singapore go through “millions of pieces of users’ content.”
The report adds that the workers access Facebook software to scour through all content. This includes photos, videos, and messages that are deemed inappropriate by a user. This is when Facebook’s artificial intelligence systems screen the messages in question.
WhatsApp reportedly sends five messages to its reviewers when a user reports a message or media
Whenever a WhatsApp user reports a message or media as inappropriate, reviewers apparently receive five messages in total. This includes the message reported by the user, as well as four preceding messages. This is to ensure the reviewers get enough context about the reported content.
These messages are then sent to WhatsApp engineers and moderators in plain (unscrambled) form. Shortly after, the tickets are reportedly fed into “reactive” queues, which the contract workers can then assess.
“WhatsApp provides a way for people to report spam or abuse, which includes sharing the most recent messages in a chat. This feature is important for preventing the worst abuse on the internet. We strongly disagree with the notion that accepting reports a user chooses to send us is incompatible with end-to-end encryption,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told Android Central.
Further, the original report claims that WhatsApp frequently shares unencrypted information with law enforcement agencies, including the United States Department of Justice.
According to the contract workers cited by ProPublica, Accenture hired them while they had to sign non-disclosure agreements. They further said that a reviewer had to handle up to 600 tickets a day, giving them less than a minute to review each ticket.
Conversations about privacy and security are not new to Facebook. However, these allegations could hit the company harder than before given its nature.