Mobility

WhatsApp Switches On Encrypted Video Calls

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The service lets mobile users make encrypted video calls, adding to messaging and voice call features

Facebook’s WhatsApp has added video calling to its smartphone application, promising to roll the feature out “in the coming days” across its user base of more than 1 billion and to make it function well even on low-end devices and slower networks.

Like the app’s other functions, video calls will be fully encrypted, meaning the company, like anyone else, would be technically unable to listen in.

Encryption

NetworksWhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption for all users in April in a climate of increasing concern over government surveillance, which some believe could become more invasive following last week’s US elections.

The company does, however, retain user data such as who a user contacts and their phone numbers, and as of August it began sharing these details with parent company Facebook, a move that has been questioned by privacy regulators in the UK and elsewhere.

Video calling was introduced at an event in India and shortly afterward would be made available on Android, iPhone and Windows Phone devices in 180 countries, WhatsApp said.

Low-end device support

Improvements in smartphone cameras, mobile networks and battery life mean video calls are practical even on inexpensive devices, the company said.

“We want to make these features available to everyone, not just those who can afford the most expensive new phones or live in countries with the best cellular networks,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.

The company has access to Facebook servers and bandwidth around the world, helping make its higher-bandwidth features run smoothly.

WhatsApp was founded in 2009 by two former Yahoo engineers, and Facebook bought it in 2014, when it had 50 staff. The company now employs 200.

It competes with products including Apple’s FaceTime and Microsoft’s Skype.

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