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WhatsApp could end UK services over upcoming Online Safety Bill

The UK’s Online Safety Bill is due to come into effect by the end of this year, but its rules conflict with WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption feature. The messaging app’s leaders are refusing to weaken their privacy standards when 98 percent of its users are located elsewhere.

For most users of the platform, WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption feature is a benefit.

It acts as a guaranteed layer of security, ensuring that only those involved in a chat can access messages, images, or other files shared within the space. Even the people working for WhatsApp cannot peer into this information.

But there’s been some recent controversy surrounding it as the deadline for the UK’s Online Safety Bill approaches. As it turns out, the pending legislation is wholly misaligned with WhatsApp’s privacy feature.

Once implemented, the bill will require digital communication platforms operating in the UK to use ‘accredited technology’ to scan users’ messages for child sexual abuse material.

For WhatsApp, this would mean installing software that would break its end-to-end encryption promise  – all for the sake of remaining available for British users. WhatsApp’s reaction to the request? Sounds like a you problem.

Employees of the internationally popular messaging platform are not budging, either. Its top leaders say they would rather discontinue services to UK users than remove or weaken its encryption services.


We have to bear in mind that 98 percent of people using WhatsApp are located outside of the UK.

Installing ‘accredited technology’ to scan the messages of users would be impossible without breaking the platform’s promise of user privacy to every single one of its users globally.

In that case, you can understand how WhatsApp would be willing to lose 2 percent of its user base over compromising its privacy standards for one nation. That said, I’d be willing to guess most people in Britain won’t be too happy if their go-to messaging app suddenly disappears.

Will Cathcart, the chief of WhatsApp, has branded the UK’s Online Safety Bill as one of the ‘most concerning set of online regulations in the Western World.’ He continued by pointing out that WhatsApp had been recently blocked by the Iranian government, but that he’d ‘never seen a liberal democracy do that.’

It begs the question, is the UK government taking things too far by infringing on its citizen’s right to privacy?


WhatsApp isn’t the first messaging service to be threatened by the UK’s new legislation, either.

The president of a popular messaging app called Signal made it clear that the company would end its UK services without hesitation before it ‘ever undermine[d] the trust that people place in us to provide a truly private means of communication.’

It should be mentioned that aside from threatening to eliminate users’ right to security and privacy, the Online Safety Bill has been criticised for lack of clarity.

In its writing, the bill had called for tech platforms to moderate ‘legal but harmful content’ but offered no specific frameworks for categorising content as such. This vague caveat has since been removed.

The bill has also been picked apart and repackaged many times by politicians and legal bodies over the last few months. It was supposed to come into effect on March 17, but this date has been amended in light of internal disagreements.

Pushback from heads of the most-used digital apps is sure to delay the bill further, with a Parliamentary discussion on the matter scheduled for the summer. A date for official implementation is unclear.

One thing is for sure though, the Online Safety Bill – if passed – will give the British government an immense amount of power over what is written, posted, and shared on digital platforms.