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WhatsApp update offers ‘really big’ advance for billions of users

WhatsApp update offers ‘really big’ advance for billions of users
New end-to-end encrypted backup feature only available on latest version of messaging app

WhatsApp has announced a major new update that it claims will make the world’s most popular messaging app fully encrypted.

The Facebook-owned app, which has more than 2 billion active users worldwide, will introduce password-protected backups of messages for both Android and iOS users.

With end-to-end encrypted backups, WhatsApp has completed its mission of providing a fully encrypted messaging experience, which it began five years ago by rolling out end-to-end encryption for instant messaging as standard.

The latest update offers an extra, optional layer of security to protect backups of text, audio, images and video stored either on Google Drive or Apple’s iCloud.

“Neither WhatsApp nor your backup service provider will be able to read your backups or access the key required to unlock it,” a WhatsApp blog post stated.

“No other global messaging service at this scale provides this level of security for their users’ messages, media, voice messages, video calls, and chat backups.”

A spokesperson added: “This is a really big privacy advancement, particularly at our scaleWe believe that this will give our users a meaningful advancement in the safety of their personal messages.”

The feature will be made available gradually, with only users running the latest version of the app able to access it.

To create an end-to-end encrypted backup, WhatsApp users will need to go to Settings > Chats > Chat Backups > End-to-End Encrypted Backup, and then follow the prompts to create one.

The latest update comes amid a legal challenge by the Citizens campaign group, which condemned the use of privacy-focussed messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal by ministers and government officials.

Transparency advocates claim that the use of such apps allow political figures to avoid scrutiny on decisions made during the Covid pandemic.

“Ministers must not govern by private messages that are then deleted,” said Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader. “This is completely undemocratic and an attack on transparency and accountability.”