When it comes to messaging privacy, WhatsApp now beats Apple thanks to end-to-end encrypted backups

WhatApp just announced it has launched the much-anticipated ability to back up chats that remain fully end-to-end encrypted to Apple’s iCloud and Google Drive. Prior to today’s rollout of end-to-end encrypted backups, when WhatsApp messages were backed up to iCloud or Google Drive, the messages could be accessed by Apple or Google under certain circumstances when the companies were compelled to do so by law enforcement.

But with WhatsApp now offering the ability to back up messages to the cloud that remain fully end-to-end encrypted, no one but the user can ever read those backed-up messages no matter what. In a blog post announcing the rollout of the much-anticipated privacy and security feature, WhatsApp said:

“While end-to-end encrypted messages you send and receive are stored on your device, many people also want a way to back up their chats in case they lose their phone. Starting today, we are making available an extra, optional layer of security to protect backups stored on Google Drive or iCloud with end-to-end encryption. 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.

You can now secure your end-to-end encrypted backup with either a password of your choice or a 64-digit encryption key that only you know. Neither WhatsApp nor your backup service provider will be able to read your backups or access the key required to unlock it.”

The rollout of end-to-end encrypted backups does have one potential downside: since no one but the user can now decrypt their backed-up messages, if they should forget their password or encryption key there would be no way the user could unencrypted their backed-up messages. But that’s the tradeoff for anything that is fully end-to-end encrypted.

Today’s news also means that the Facebook-owned messaging app is even more private and secure than Apple’s own Messages app. While Apple encrypts iMessages that are backed up to a user’s iCloud account, Apple continues to hold the key, which means they could be ordered to decrypt a user’s iCloud backup and hand the messages over if compelled to do so by legal bodies. So far Apple has resisted calls to end-to-end encrypt iCloud or Messages backups, but perhaps now that WhatsApp is offering end-to-end encrypted backups, Apple may finally decide to do the same.

WhatsApp notes that while it’s rolling out the end-to-end encrypted backups feature starting today, it will be a phased rollout, which means some users may not see the option for a while.

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