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WhatsApp Launches New Promo Campaign Highlighting the Value of Encryption

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WhatsApp Launches New Promo Campaign Highlighting the Value of Encryption


Amid ongoing scrutiny over parent company Meta’s plan to implement full encryption by default across all of its messaging apps, WhatsApp has launched a new promotional campaign which aims to drum home the importance of privacy for users, with an exaggerated example of how your unprotected messages can be accessed.

As you can see, WhatsApp’s new ad campaign equates the lack of security around SMS text messaging to people being able to read your physical mail. Which is a bit of a stretch, but the emphasis has some merit. You wouldn’t want people reading your letters, yet certain third-party providers can intercept text messages, which, in some ways, is similar.

Though it’s interesting timing. Right now, Meta is in the midst of integrating all of its messaging platforms (WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram Direct) into one platform, which would enable you to access your inbox from any of these apps on the other, and carry on conversations with friends across each.

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A bi-product of that is that each of its messaging options now has to upgrade to full encryption, as offered by WhatsApp, in order to facilitate equally secure messaging across each surface.

Government representatives and law enforcement groups in almost every country have raised concerns about this shift, which they believe will limit the capacity of criminal investigations. If there’s no way of anyone being able to trace or access these types of exchanges, either internally or externally, that, essentially, would give free, undetectable reign to criminal organizations, enabling them to utilize Meta’s massive network to organize, mobilize and exchange illegal material, without fear of consequence.

The counter to this concern is the rising push to give users more rights to control their privacy and their personal data online.

The European Union has spent years implementing advanced privacy laws to protect people’s digital data, while a recent report from the UK Information Commissioner found that encrypting communications actually strengthens online safety by reducing people’s exposure to threats, like blackmail, while also allowing businesses to share private exchanges.

And there is clearly a desire for more privacy from consumers. WhatsApp already has over 2 billion users, and is seeing steady growth in the US, as discussions around online privacy become more prominent.

But that could also be a result of more groups switching to private messaging to avoid detection. Last August, Meta moved to ban WhatsApp users linked to the Taliban under its Dangerous Organizations policy, so there is still seemingly some recourse for the most extreme examples of such, where they can be detected.

But full encryption would significantly limit that process.

Is that a good thing, in that it offers more protection for users, or a bad thing, in that it could facilitate criminal activity?

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Either way, it seems like Meta is pushing ahead, and while Government groups look to scare the public into opposing full encryption (the UK Government’s recent proposed campaign was pretty horrifying), it may be that amid all the discussion around polarization and purported manipulation by the mainstream media that more people actually want to secure their conversations from any type of outside interference.

This new push from WhatsApp will certainly stoke those fires even more, and it’ll be interesting to see if it results in an increase in WhatsApp take-up as a result.





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‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets

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South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber Ken Rhee told AFP he has no regrets about his decision to fight in Ukraine

South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber Ken Rhee told AFP he has no regrets about his decision to fight in Ukraine – Copyright AFP Jung Yeon-je

Cat Barton and Kang Jin-kyu

A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine says it would have been a “crime” not to use his skills to help.

Ken Rhee, an ex-special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March.

To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from travelling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations patrol there, was met at the airport by 15 police officers on his return.

But the celebrity ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented much of his Ukraine experience on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.

“You’re walking down the beach and you see a sign by the water saying ‘no swimming’ — but you see someone drowning. It’s a crime not to help. That’s how I see it,” he told AFP.

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Rhee was born in South Korea but raised in the United States. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and planned to join the US Navy SEALS, but his father — a “patriot”, he says — convinced his son to return to South Korea to enlist.

He served for seven years, undergoing both US and Korean SEAL training and doing multiple stints in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up a defence consultancy.

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“I have the skillset. I have the experience. I was in two different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I could help,” he said, adding that he viewed breaking South Korea’s passport law to leave as equivalent to a “traffic violation”.

– Backlash in Korea –

But the reaction in South Korea — where Rhee shot to fame as a trainer in the popular YouTube series “Fake Men” — was swift and unforgiving.

“It was instant. People in Korea, they just criticised me about breaking the law,” said Rhee.

His critics claim the 38-year-old’s decision was criminally irresponsible, and point to his posting of war footage on his YouTube and Instagram accounts as evidence of showboating.

Rhee says he tries not to let the furore get to him. “I think it’s pretty obvious who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” he said of Russia and Ukraine. 

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On his first day on the frontline in Irpin — which he describes as “the Wild West” and “chaos” — he says he witnessed Russian war crimes.

“I saw a civilian get shot. He was driving… and they shot him through the windshield and he died in front of us,” he said.

“It was like: there’s my proof. There’s definitely war crimes going on. It reminded me and my teammates what we were doing and why we were there,” he said.

Because of his military training, Rhee was told to set up his own team, so he recruited other volunteers with combat experience and set up a multi-national special operations group.

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“I was eating Canadian MREs. My gun was from the Czech Republic. I have a Javelin missile from the United States. I have a rocket that’s from Germany… but nothing is Korean,” he said.

He tried to take his Korean-made night vision goggles but was not given government export permission. Seoul has provided non-lethal aid to Kyiv, but Rhee said they could do more.

“Korea has state-of-the-art equipment… they’re very good at making weapons,” he said.

– ‘See you in Taiwan’ –

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Russia said this week that 13 South Koreans had travelled to Ukraine — including four who were killed. Seoul said it was trying to verify the claims.

Although Rhee did not know the fate of all his teammates, he said “a lot of my friends have died”.

“I don’t want my friends’ sacrifices to be forgotten,” he said, adding that he plans to write a book — and maybe a screenplay — about his team’s experiences.

But first, he needs to deal with the official repercussions of his trip. He is quietly optimistic South Korea’s new conservative administration won’t put him in jail.

Rhee is not allowed to leave the country until his case is resolved, and is receiving treatment for his injuries. But he hopes one day to fight alongside his teammates again, for a cause they believe in.

The joke as people left the frontline was: “See you in Taiwan,” he said, referring darkly to the risk that Beijing will follow Moscow’s lead and invade a neighbouring democracy.

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