Back to top
Program Update

OTF-supported Open Whisper Systems has completed the integration of its Signal encryption protocol with popular messaging app WhatsApp, enhancing the privacy and security of over a billion WhatsApp users worldwide, the vast majority of whom reside overseas.

Full end-to-end encryption is now the default for all WhatsApp users - an invaluable improvement for the human rights activists, journalists, political dissidents, and other at-risk groups who rely on the encrypted chat app in order to operate safety.

By simplifying privacy, Open Whisper Systems is allowing at-risk users to evade repressive censorship and surveillance: WhatsApp has sparked a “sharing revolution” in Sudan, inspired pro-democracy activists in Central African Republic, enabled Hong Kong protesters to organize, and allowed Burundian activist journalists to “fill a news void” in a harsh media environment. It’s also been the target of government crackdowns in Bahrain, Zimbabwe, and China’s Xinjiang region, home to the oppressed Muslim ethnic Uyghur minority.

Evading repressive government surveillance is paramount for activists and political dissidents. In just the past two weeks, for example, Chinese authorities have arrested Mongolian herders for discussing protests and Tibetans for discussing recent Tibetan exile government elections; In both cases, the popular Chinese chat app WeChat was used - a platform heavily censored by China’s Great Firewall and screened by authorities for “sensitive keywords.” This is not a new development, and even extends beyond China’s borders.

At present, WhatsApp is available inside China:

“WhatsApp, which launched in China in 2010, has already proven itself as a valuable tool for anti-Beijing activism—many of the leaders of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement organized protests through the app’s Group Chat feature. There was nothing then to stop Chinese users from joining these groups, and there’s nothing stopping them now either.” - Josh Horwitz, Quartz

The Signal protocol found in WhatsApp and developed by Open Whispers Systems is free and open source, opening it up to public scrutiny which, ultimately, results in a stronger, more secure tool. This makes WhatsApp not only the most popular chat app on the planet, but also one that is taking significant steps to protect its users around the world.

Read more about the Open Whisper/WhatsApp integration at the OWS blog.

Media coverage from The Verge, The Washington Post, and Quartz.

Project