If online privacy is a big deal for you, and it probably should be, then the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual data privacy test is probably going to be of interest to you. Every twelve months the group takes the planet’s most popular online services and puts them through a series of tests to decide just how privacy safe they really are. The results are turned into a star rating with five stars being the maximum score achievable.

In this year’s test, instant messaging service WhatsApp scores the lowest yet, coming home with just one star out of the possible five.

That’s really, really bad.

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The five criteria that the EFF uses in order to grade online services are:

  • Follows industry-accepted best practices
  • Tells users about government data demands
  • Discloses policies on data retention
  • Discloses government content removal requests
  • Pro-user public policy: opposes backdoors.

Based on the answers to those five points, the EFF is able to build a picture of which services have our back when it comes to privacy. Facebook-owned WhatsApp scored just one star, which is pretty safe to say makes it rather hard to recommend.

Perhaps the most concerning finding during the process was that WhatsApp does not require a warrant before it will provide content to law enforcement agencies, and to make matters worse, at no point does it provide any sort of transparency statement to its users. On top of that, WhatsApp fails to assure users that they will receive notice about government data requests ahead of time, while also failing to provide information on data retention policies or content removal requests.

In short, WhatsApp is probably not the service to use if privacy, or at least keeping your conversations relatively private, is even a minor concern of yours.

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The one positive for WhatsApp here is its publicly stated policy on backdoors to its service, with Facebook’s own stance on the matter apparently filtering down the food chain. Facebook, for that matter, received four stars out of five during the EFF’s tests. Apple, Adobe and Dropbox were all amongst those receiving the full five star rating.

(Source: EFF)

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