Elon Musk and WhatsApp boss argue about messenger’s privacy.

WhatsApp exports user data every night, Musk said. The messenger’s boss disagrees, but it’s about more than just Meta’s access to messages.

After Elon Musk claimed that WhatsApp exports user data every night, the messenger’s boss dismissed this as incorrect. According to Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp at Meta, messages are encrypted and not sent to Meta every night. Musk did not refer specifically to messages, however, but rather spoke vaguely about user data. This could still be valuable for Meta to evaluate.

Some security researchers agree with Musk, saying that user data is more than just messages, which have been encrypted on WhatsApp for years and can only be read by the users themselves. This data protection is also vehemently defended by WhatsApp and Cathcart themselves. WhatsApp, Signal, Threema, and others have spoken out against the Online Safety Bill for chat control, with which the British government would allow private messages to be searched. This represents a threat to privacy.

But Elon Musk is already convinced that WhatsApp would no longer be secure if user data were exported regularly. Will Cathcart counters this by pointing out that messages are encrypted, but user data also includes metadata such as location, conversation partners, and times. Meta uses this data for personalized advertising across all Meta services and confirms this in its own data protection guidelines, write the security researchers at Mysk at X, formerly Twitter.

The sharing of WhatsApp data with other meta-owned companies is a cause for concern, said Dr. Tristan Henderson, lecturer in computer science at the University of St. Andrews. “This includes enough metadata for these meta-owned companies to make suggestions and display personalized advertising, which in itself shows what metadata can reveal,” the scientist explains.

Even though Will Cathcart stresses that Elon Musk is not the first to claim that user data is exported every night, the billionaire has apparently hit a nerve with WhatsApp. While the WhatsApp boss remains objective, Yann LeCun, AI boss at Meta, follows up with personal criticism of Musk. However, he uses Threads, another Meta platform that Musk does not use himself.

LeCun accuses Musk of making contradictory and unrealistic claims about artificial intelligence and “spreading conspiracy theories” on his own social media platform, writes the BBC.


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