Facebook, of whom we’ve all heard & many of you spend far too long playing in their Kingdom, declared Whatsapp the winner of messaging apps when they paid the astronomical sum of $US22 billion for the company. The userbase of near on 1 billion was what did it for the purchase price, Viber – with far more advanced features at the time but way smaller public uptake (100m) sold for just under $US1 billion. You can see Facebook’s bet – it’s easier to code features into an app than it is to obtain a billion users.
Strangely enough, they’ve stuck to their promise of leaving Whatsapp to it’s own path. And that path has led us to what may be considered a Moment In Time – 5th April 2016 – the date that the world – or a fair chunk of the population anyway, had access to private communication channels. Encrypted end-to-end, silently & efficiently, by Whisper Systems, the heroic developers of Signal, the cross-platform SMS replacement that I personally insist upon using. If you want to talk to me, you need to click either one of these buttons first.
Encryption is really, really hard to get right. There’s so much to consider when keeping information private from everybody other than the intended recipient yet delivering a lightweight, rapidly-transported product. The acid-test of a truly effective encryption app is to open source it. By revealing the code to the wwworld, it can be checked, tested & peer-reviewed whenever someone feels like inspecting it. The Signal protocol is precisely that – open source. You don’t need to trust them, you can read the code for yourself.
What we’ve really needed with the encryption market is a dominant player, one protocol that everyone has, trusts & uses. There’s a bunch of small-time players out there – some seemingly effective (Wickr – but I can’t read your code…) some not (Telegram) that don’t talk to each other – resulting in a fragmented attempt by mobile phone users to keep our comms private. Who wants to change crypto app 3 or 4 times a day to talk to your various contacts? No-one. Convenience is a paramount factor for humans. Sure, we’ll encrypt, just make it easy for us.
Done. Today’s post by Whisper Systems founder Moxie Marlinspike took perfect encryption to the masses in one unstoppable move. Stunning business. What’s more, as Whatsapp updates for all its users, plain-text conversations will be phased out & very shortly, not available at all. Not opt-in privacy, but enforced privacy. Thinking that through, what an attractive feature for the service provider – they’re never going to be sued by some idiot who’s had their data breached. Even if you could capture the encrypted conversations, they’re well, encrypted. You can’t read them. Like this:
Says just one word, Signal-encrypted & captured by me – answers on a postcard please.
Privacy is a basic human right, one we’ve had stolen by authorities & nation states. Today, mark it down, a date to celebrate. We took privacy back today. Or at least the 1 billion Whatsapp users did. Join the revolution.