It’s a dark picture enveloping Google. The US attorneys general accuse the multinational of multiple violations of antitrust rules. In other words, the company is suspected of having been involved in numerous anticompetitive practices and an overwhelming document has been published in this regard (look at the pdf)† This includes the confidentiality of WhatsApp conversations stored on Google Drive.
Keep in mind that since 2015, Android users have been able to save a copy of their WhatsApp conversations to Google Drive. This includes messages, as well as photos and videos shared with contacts. This is a very practical feature when you want to switch smartphones without losing all this data on the application. Therefore, the Google and WhatsApp teams had emphasized that these backups were encrypted to remain private.
However, the 17 attorneys general who signed the complaint against Google cite a note distributed internally in 2016 questioning the confidentiality of WhatsApp data stored on Drive. The note in question would explain that WhatsApp’s current talk about end-to-end encryption isn’t quite right†
WhatsApp reports that all communications through its product are end-to-end encrypted, using keys only users have. They have not made it clear that the data WhatsApp shares with third-party services does not have the same guarantee. This includes backups to Google Drive.
However, the internal note was intended to make this information more transparent and to confirm the importance of ensuring that: “Users know that when WhatsApp media files are shared with third parties such as Drive, the files are no longer encrypted by WhatsApp”†
Lying to create users
But according to the prosecutors “Google has done nothing to rectify this misunderstanding. On the contrary, it has not disclosed this relevant information to its customers, with the intention of continuing to recruit more Google Drive users”† The blog post published a year earlier in 2015 even claimed that the backups were private.
Google also hid the fact that it can access users’ WhatsApp communications. Normally, users can log into their Google Drive account and view the files it contains. But according to an internal Google memo, the company has been “opaque” in storing users’ WhatsApp messages on Google Drive. As a result, users are unable to access Google Drive to discover that Google had access to their decrypted WhatsApp communications.
Legally there are no doubts: Google’s cover-up on the privacy of saved WhatsApp messages “Has led to an increase in demand for Google’s backup service.” Users quickly subscribed to WhatsApp communication backup on Google Drive”.
The document then states that by June 2016, approximately 434 million WhatsApp users had backed up approximately 345 billion WhatsApp files to Google Drive, and that by May 2017, Google Drive had gained approximately 750 million new WhatsApp backup accounts.
The app doesn’t lie
The conclusion is quickly written. In short, Google had no problem violating the privacy of nearly a billion users if it helped them grow their business. There is no doubt that the Mountain View study will prepare its defense to deny these allegations. Also note that in the WhatsApp application, in the backup settings, it is specified that “messages and media stored in Google Drive are not protected by WhatsApp’s end-to-end security”
This clarification may have been added several years after the backup feature was implemented.