Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is adding fully encrypted video calling to its WhatsApp messaging app in a move to assuage privacy concerns. Now, people have another way to communicate without fear of eavesdropping by companies or government authorities. The feature will be introduced at an event in India and subsequently be rolled out to 180 countries within hours.
Whatsapp is one of the world’s most popular means of communication, with more than a billion users worldwide. Facebook has allowed WhatsApp to use its servers and bandwidth around the world. Even those using inexpensive smartphones can use WhatsApp effectively. The platform has been steadily adding more features to what began as a simple chat applications.
WhatsApp adopted end-to-end encryption earlier this year. End-to-end encryption makes reading messages or listening to calls technically impossible for anyone but the sender and receiver. WhatsApp does retain other data, such as an individual’s list of contacts.
WhatsApp revised its privacy statement in August to say it would share information about users with Facebook after years of pledging that it would not. Facebook can now see the people that WhatsApp users contact and their phone numbers. While there were complaints from some users, behavior on the app has not been significantly impacted. Facebook already compiles information on its own 1.7 billion users.
The U.S. election of Donald Trump as president has increased fears of surveillance by government agencies. Trump, along with FBI Director James Comey and some leading congressional Republicans, has called for tech companies to turn over customer information when asked by the government. Other countries also want these companies to hand over information on their citizens when asked.
Facebook has already stopped collecting WhatsApp user data across much of Europe due to privacy concerns. Europe’s data collection authorities signed an open letter to the company urging that data collection be suspended until the legality was worked out. However, the social network says it may only be a temporary suspension while the laws are debated. Germany has also ordered Facebook to stop collecting the data.