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Snapchat and Skype not up to scratch with user privacy

25 Oct 2016

Snapchat and Skype are among a number of apps that Amnesty International has found aren't protecting users’ privacy.

Only 3 of the 11 tech firms examined by the organisation actually provide end-to-end encryption by default on all their messaging apps.

Amnesty International’s new ‘Message Privacy Ranking’ assesses the 11 companies with the most popular messaging apps on the way they use encryption to protect users’ privacy and freedom of expression across their messaging apps.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights team says the reality is that our communications are under constant threat from cybercriminals and spying by state authorities.

“If you think instant messaging services are private, you are in for a big surprise,” he says.

“The reality is that our Young people, the most prolific sharers of personal details and photos over apps like Snapchat, are especially at risk.”

Amnesty International has highlighted end-to end encryption, as a minimum requirement for tech companies to ensure that private information in messaging apps stays private.

“It is up to tech firms to respond to well-known threats to their users’ privacy and freedom of expression, yet many companies are falling at the first hurdle by failing to provide an adequate level of encryption,” explains Elsayed-Ali.

“Millions of people are using messaging apps that deny them even the most basic privacy protection.”

Amnesty International’s ‘Message Privacy Ranking’ ranks technology companies on a scale of one to 100 based on how well they do five things:

  • Recognise online threats to their users’ privacy and freedom of expression
  • Apply end-to-end encryption as a default
  • Make users aware of threats to their rights, and the level of encryption in place
  • Disclose details of government requests to the company for user data, and how they respond
  • Publish technical details of their encryption systems

The organisation highlights end-to-end encryption as a basic protection that few firms provide.

Only three firms that were put through the ranking system scored full marks for providing end-to-end encryption by default on all their messaging apps.

The three that scored the highest were Apple, Line and Viber.

“Most technology companies are simply not up to standard when it comes to protecting their users’ privacy,” says Elsayed-Ali.

“The future of privacy and free speech online depends to a very large extent on whether tech companies provide services that protect our communications, or serve them up on a plate for prying eyes.”

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