One of the security and privacy features of WhatsApp is end-to-end encryption of messages. What this means is that messages are encrypted before they arrive on your device and when they are sent from your device, meaning that at no point in time can they be read unless on authorized devices.
This means that even Facebook can’t tell what messages are being sent, even though it might be passing through their servers. However, it seems that this isn’t stopping the company from trying. According to a report from The Information (paywall), it seems that Facebook is apparently researching ways that they might be able to analyze your messages, even if it was encrypted.
We’re not talking about Facebook trying to break their own encryption, but rather to make sense of already-encrypted data and to extract information from it that could in turn be used to help bolster targeted advertising. This is also known as “homomorphic encryption” which is a study of reading information from encrypted data while preserving privacy.
WhatsApp has since responded to the report, where a tweet from Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, claims that the company isn’t exploring the use of homomorphic encryption for now. However, given the numerous privacy related scandals that Facebook has found itself embroiled in, we wouldn’t blame you if you were skeptical.