Spurred on by Apple vs FBI: WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Google to increase encryption

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Reportedly, big tech companies – including Facebook, Google and Snapchat – are working on their own increased privacy technology as Apple fights the US government over encryption.

The Guardian reports that WhatsApp is set to expand encryption to voice calls "within weeks." Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that the USA Justice Department was debating on how to deal with problems accessing encrypted WhatsApp data. In one legal dispute, the department reportedly could not conduct a court-ordered wiretap, a problem that could lead to another fight in law enforcement's campaign over access to protected data. WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum supports Apple, saying an FBI legal victory could set a "dangerous precedent."

Facebook itself is also reportedly considering how it might improve security in its Messenger service.

Engineers at Twitter have explored encrypted messaging products before only to see them never be released because the products can be hard to use – or the companies prioritized more consumer-friendly projects. But they now hope the increased emphasis on encryption means that technology executives view strong privacy tools as a business advantage – not just a marketing pitch.

Snapchat is reportedly exploring a secure messaging system, as Google continues to look into potential uses for encrypted email technology. In 2014, Google announced a project called End to End, which would make it easier to send encrypted emails in such a way that only the sender and recipient could decode them. The project, once a collaboration with Yahoo, has been slow-going.

That appears to have changed in recent months, though, sources familiar with the project said, and other Google employees have shown in renewed interest in the idea. At a February internal town hall at Google, one engineer stood up and asked vice-president of security and privacy engineering Gerhard Eschelbeck why Google wasn’t doing more to support encrypted communications, according to two people familiar with the exchange.

Gerhard countered the company increasingly was putting effort behind such projects. Some Google employees are discussing whether the technology behind End to End can be applied to other products, though no final determinations have been made.