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Elon Musk and WhatsApp clash over metadata

Elon Musk and WhatsApp clash over metadata

Musk WhatsApp

WhatsApp, the popular messaging app owned by Meta, has found itself in the middle of a heated debate over data privacy. The controversy began when billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk claimed that WhatsApp “exports your user data every night.”

Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, quickly responded to Musk’s allegations on social media. He stated that Musk’s claim was “not correct” and emphasized that WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted.

This means that only the sender and recipient can read the contents of the messages, and they cannot be accessed by WhatsApp or any third party. Yann LeCun, the artificial intelligence chief at Meta, also weighed in on the dispute. On Threads, another Meta platform, LeCun accused Musk of making contradictory and unrealistic claims about AI and “spewing conspiracy theories” on his social media platform.

Musk’s metadata concerns explained

While Cathcart is correct that WhatsApp messages are encrypted and their contents are secure, Musk’s vague language about “user data” being uploaded could be referring to metadata. Metadata includes information such as user location, contact patterns, and online activity times that are sent alongside the actual message.

WhatsApp does share some metadata with other platforms owned by Meta, but this does not include the content of messages. Dr. Tristan Henderson, a lecturer in computer science at the University of St Andrews, noted that “one area of particular concern has been WhatsApp sharing data with other Meta companies.” He added that this includes “sufficient metadata for these Meta companies to make suggestions and show personalized adverts, which in itself shows what metadata can reveal.”

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The WhatsApp Privacy Policy explicitly states that the company will use some user data for “showing relevant offers and ads across the Meta Company Products.” Meta has been approached for comment on this matter. This controversy highlights the ongoing debate over data privacy and the use of metadata by tech companies.

While WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures the privacy of message contents, the collection and sharing of metadata remain a concern for many users who value their privacy online.

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