November 2, 2016: Amnesty looked at eleven of the most popular messaging apps and found big variations in security. Facebook messenger and WhatsApp were best with a score of 73/100.
“If you think instant messaging services are private, you are in for a big surprise. The reality is that our communications are under constant threat from cyber criminals and spying by state authorities. Young people, the most prolific sharers of personal details and photos over apps like Snapchat, are especially at risk,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Head of Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights Team.
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He added, “WhatsApp uses a very strong encryption. It does a very good job by telling people what kind of encryption it chooses and how it protects people’s information.”
Conversely Skype, owned by software giant Microsoft, and Snapchat performed poorly. Elsayed-Ali said, “They don’t use end-to-end encryption which is essentially a kind of encryption that means only the sender and the receiver is able to read the messages.”
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Snapchat disputes Amnesty conclusions and says privacy and security are what it calls foundation values. Microsoft told VOA in a statement, “Skype uses encryption and a range of other technical security measures and we protect people’s privacy through legal challenges advocacy and strong policies to notify customers when we receive government requests for data.”
Amnesty says it’s not only personal privacy at stake. According to Elsayed-Ali, “Journalists all over the world who are trying to uncover corruption trial and abuses by government, activists who are resisting repression in their countries are being actively sought out by their governments who are trying to find their information to disrupt their work and often to imprison them or prosecute them.”
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Items like cars and home appliances are increasingly been connected to the internet, the so called Internet of Things (IoT). According to Amnesty, “There will be sensors everywhere with the Internet of things, maybe tens or hundreds of billions of sensors in our homes and in our cities. Listening in, collecting information all the time and if we don’t protect privacy now with things like very strong encryption, then there will be no privacy in the future.”
Bottom of the Amnesty’s rankings was the Chinese firm Tencent which owns the messaging apps WeChat and QQ. It scored zero out of 100. (VOA)