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WhatsApp chats might tell you if they’re end-to-end encrypted

Published Mar 11th, 2024 7:51PM EDT
iPhone 15 Pro showing the App Store ahead of iOS 17.4 beta release
Image: José Adorno for BGR

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Anyone using WhatsApp should know that their chats and calls are end-to-end encrypted, just like on iMessage and Signal. It’s a security feature WhatsApp had before Meta bought the app. It’s also probably the reason WhatsApp was the only encrypted chat app Meta operated for so long. Facebook Messenger started rolling out end-to-end encryption only a few months ago.

Since encryption is a strong selling point of WhatsApp, you might think the feature doesn’t need advertising. Chats and calls will remain end-to-end encrypted despite insert reason to worry. And some users did have reasons to worry not too long ago.

Remember when Meta (then Facebook) made that controversial privacy change to WhatsApp a few years ago? And now, Meta is getting ready to support third-party chats in WhatsApp in the EU

Meta will continue to reinforce its commitment to end-to-end encryption whenever it has to discuss security- and privacy-related WhatsApp matters.

With that in mind, I think WhatsApp reminding users that their chat apps are end-to-end encrypted from within the chat app is a good practice. One that should be available on iPhone and Android soon.

Discovered by WABetaInfo in the latest WhatsApp beta for Android, the feature puts the status of encryption front and center, as seen in the screenshot below. 

Meta is testing an encryption indicator for WhatsApp chats.
Meta is testing an encryption indicator for WhatsApp chats. Image source: WABetaInfo

A caption that identifies a chat as “end-to-end encrypted” appears briefly under the name of the contact you’re chatting with. The caption will disappear after a few seconds so the last seen information can appear in the same place. 

But the encryption indicator is still a great addition to the app. It should appear for every chat in the app, even if just briefly. 

As I said, tech-savvy users take WhatsApp end-to-end encryption for granted. They might not need the indicator above. But it would be a great marketing tool for Meta to promote the security of WhatsApp. 

Moreover, I think it’s all the more important in the European Union, where WhatsApp will have to work with other chat apps. Meta has explained it’s looking to enforce encryption via WhatsApp’s Signal protocol or something equally strong. At the same time, Meta acknowledged it can’t offer the same security guarantees. 

The encryption indicator could be a great tool to use if you plan on chatting with people using third-party apps. It could tell you if the conversation remains secure or not. 

Come to think of it; the DMA might finally give us the Instagram-Facebook-Messenger-WhatsApp tool that Meta once promised. Not all three apps are end-to-end encrypted. That’s one instance where the encryption indicator might come in handy. That said, there’s no reason to think Meta will want to make its own apps interoperable. 

Meta already identifies encrypted chats in Facebook Messenger.
Meta already identifies encrypted chats in Facebook Messenger. Image source: Chris Smith, BGR

Also, there’s no confirmation from Meta that the encryption indicator will roll out to the public version of the app. However, there is precedent. Facebook Messenger has started identifying which chats are end-to-end encrypted. 

The indicator is not as visiable as the one in WhatsApp above. You have to tap a contact’s profile picture in Facebook Messenger and see if a permanent end-to-end encrypted marker appears under your friend’s name. Not all chats in your Facebook Messenger are encrypted because the feature is still rolling out to users. Also, users must enable encryption by choosing a password.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.