WhatsApp Chief Will Cathcart has said that the platform will not adhere to the UK’s proposed Online Safety Bill, which could put the app’s future operation in Britain at risk.
Under the proposed bill, the UK government would require all social media and messaging platforms to apply updated moderation processes to all user content, in order to protect users, and ensure harmful behavior is addressed. But with full encryption in place, it would be impossible for a platform to adhere to this, as user content would not be accessible to moderation teams.
The only answer, then, would be to remove default encryption, which Cathcart says is not an option.
As per Cathcart (via The Guardian):
“The reality is, our users all around the world want security. 99% of our users are outside the UK. They do not want us to lower the security of the product, and just as a straightforward matter, it would be an odd choice for us to choose to lower the security of the product in a way that would affect those 98% of users.”
And while Cathcart can only speak for WhatsApp specifically, the same would theoretically apply to all of Meta’s messaging apps, with the company still in the process of rolling out full encryption by default to Messenger and Instagram Direct as well.
As the current proposal sits, if Meta were unable or unwilling to align with the incoming rules, it would face fines of up to 4% of its annual turnover, which could force Meta to reconsider its exposure in the region.
The UK Government has long opposed Meta’s expanded encryption push. Last September, then UK Home Affairs Secretary Priti Patel called on Meta to reconsider its plans for expanded messaging encryption, as it could impede the ability of police to investigate and prevent child abuse. At the time, Patel labeled the shift to full encryption as ‘catastrophic’.
Other UK law enforcement and safety officials have echoed this, calling on the UK Government to implement new laws to stop Meta from effectively facilitating criminal activity by cloaking it behind an encryption wall.
But as Cathcart notes, user privacy has become an expectation, with more people now turning to private, encrypted messaging to engage with friends freely. And with Meta looking to align with this, it’s been thus far unwilling to reverse plans to expand its encryption offerings.
That could put it on a collision course with UK officials, which could see it forced to implement new approaches by region – or as noted, pull out of the UK entirely.
The UK’s proposed online safety bill is expected to return to parliament mid-year.