[messaging] Second thoughts on WhatsApp encryption

Joseph Bonneau jbonneau at gmail.com
Fri Nov 21 08:57:35 PST 2014

On Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 11:29 AM, Tom Ritter <tom at ritter.vg> wrote:
> The difference between "WhatsApp can MITM my conversations by giving
> me a fake key" vs "WhatsApp can MITM my conversations by saying
> 'Alice/Everyone doesn't support encryption'" is still important
> though.  While they can be seen as technically equivalent[2], I think
> legally they are not, because of the points Nathan raised, and because
> I think it'd be easier for RepressiveGov or TLA to argue "You have a
> switch to disable crypto, use it."

I agree. was attempting to make this exact point, perhaps I didn't hit it
as clearly.

While we're having Amateur Political Science Friday in this thread though,
I think it's an interesting question what "the right thing" to do is for
WhatsApp or any other provider facing demands to turn crypto off (or
severely weaken it) to get their app into country X. My initial reaction is
I'd like them to stand tall, refuse to modify their product and let it be
blocked. I can see an argument though that a better strategy is to comply
at first. If they stand tall, odds are some inferior local app will take
their place with terrible security that's totally controlled by the local
government. If they ship a weakened product, they may try to upgrade it
later after they've achieved substantial local deployment. Or they can
upgrade it quickly if the government falls or changes policy. On the other
hand, it's much likely to be much more visible (and unpopular) if country X
has to actively block foreign products with encryption. The governments in
China and Iran pay some political price for blocking Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I'd probably still come down on the side of not shipping weakened products,
 but I expect many companies will come to a different decision and it's
probably worthwhile for us to think technically about how to have the most
secure product while trying to accommodate constraints like this.
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