Tech

WhatsApp vs. Elon Musk: The Truth about Your Data

  • May 29, 2024
  • 2 min read
WhatsApp vs. Elon Musk: The Truth about Your Data

In the latest social media showdown, WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart has responded strongly to claims by Elon Musk that the messaging app “exports your user data every night.” Musk’s accusations were made on X (formerly Twitter), prompting Cathcart to label them as “not correct.” He highlighted WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption, which ensures that messages can only be read by the sender and the recipient.

The spat didn’t end there. Yann LeCun, the artificial intelligence chief at Meta (WhatsApp’s parent company), also jumped into the fray. Using some harsh language, LeCun criticized Musk for spreading misinformation. On another Meta platform, Threads, LeCun accused Musk of making contradictory statements about artificial intelligence and promoting conspiracy theories on social media.

Elon Musk is no stranger to online arguments, having engaged in public disputes with various individuals, including submariners and former employees. However, in this case, Cathcart’s assertion is technically accurate: WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning neither WhatsApp nor Meta can read the content of the messages.

Yet, the issue may not be as clear-cut as it seems. Musk’s broad claim about “user data” being uploaded every night could refer to metadata. Metadata includes information such as user location, the contacts a user communicates with, and patterns of online activity. Security researcher Tommy Mysk pointed out that while WhatsApp messages are encrypted, metadata is not.

WhatsApp does share some metadata with other Meta platforms, but this does not include the content of messages. Dr. Tristan Henderson, a computer science lecturer at the University of St Andrews, explained that WhatsApp shares enough metadata for Meta companies to make suggestions and display personalized ads. This sharing of metadata has been a longstanding concern, as it demonstrates how revealing metadata can be.

The WhatsApp Privacy Policy acknowledges that user data may be used for “showing relevant offers and ads across the Meta Company Products.” This can affect the youth directly, as they are heavy users of social media and messaging apps. Young people often prioritize convenience and connectivity, sometimes at the expense of privacy. Understanding the nuances of how their data is used can help them make more informed choices about the platforms they use.

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Yockshard Enyendi
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Yockshard Enyendi

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