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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Elon Musk vs WhatsApp: The latest controversy

The claim, posted on Musk’s platform X, has ignited a heated debate over the security and privacy practices of the popular messaging app.

In a recent social media outburst, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has stirred controversy by accusing WhatsApp of exporting user data every night. The claim, posted on Musk’s platform X (formerly Twitter), has ignited a heated debate over the security and privacy practices of the popular messaging app.

Musk’s Bold Accusation

On X, Musk posted: “WhatsApp exports your user data every night. Some people still think it is secure.” This statement immediately drew significant attention and concern from users worldwide, questioning the integrity of WhatsApp’s data handling practices.

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WhatsApp’s Firm Denial

In response, Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp’s development and strategy, quickly refuted Musk’s claims. Cathcart responded on X, emphasizing the security measures that WhatsApp employs: “Many have said this already, but worth repeating: this is not correct. We take security seriously, and that’s why we end-to-end encrypt your messages. They don’t get sent to us every night or exported to us.” Cathcart’s statement aimed to reassure users about the platform’s commitment to maintaining privacy through robust encryption technologies.

Metadata Debate

While Cathcart’s rebuttal focused on the end-to-end encryption of messages, security researcher Tommy Mysk added complexity to the discussion by highlighting the role of metadata. Mysk explained that, although the messages themselves are secure, other forms of data—such as user locations, contact interactions, and online activity patterns—are collected and used for targeted advertising across Meta services. He noted, “WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, but user data is not only about messages. That also includes metadata such as user location, which contacts the user is communicating with, the patterns of when the user is online, etc. This metadata, according to your privacy policy, is indeed used for targeted ads across Meta services. So @elonmusk is right.”

Industry Reactions and Broader Implications

The controversy has sparked responses from various quarters. WABetaInfo, a website dedicated to tracking updates on WhatsApp, suggested that Musk’s accusations might be influenced by competitive motives, particularly promoting his own X messaging app. WABetaInfo stated, “It’s easy to blame WhatsApp when you have a product to promote, like the X messaging app and its end-to-end encryption. This is the main reason why Elon Musk repeatedly shares misinformation regarding WhatsApp.” The website further clarified that WhatsApp’s data practices do not involve exporting user data nightly for advertising purposes, but rather pertain to local backup features on Android devices.

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This incident marks the second time in recent weeks that Musk has publicly criticized a messaging app. Previously, he had accused Signal of collaborating with the United States government, a claim that was met with skepticism. These repeated assertions from Musk indicate a broader critique of digital communication platforms and their data privacy policies.