WhatsApp Hits Two Billion Users, Defends Encryption

Facebook-owned messaging app, WhatsApp, has revealed that it is now used by more than two billion users around the world.

The messaging service revealed the landmark user count in a blog post, in which it also defended its default use of end-to-end encryption for people’s messages.

In February 2016 WhatsApp revealed it was used by one billion people, and then 1.5 billion by the end of 2017. Then last month it announced it had reached 5 billion downloads on the Google Play Store.

Encryption defence

WhatsApp used the user count occasion to strongly defend its stance on encryption, in light of growing pressure from governments and authorities for the social network to allow them access.

“Private conversations that once were only possible face-to-face can now take place across great distances through instant chats and video calling,” it blogged. “There are so many significant and special moments that take place over WhatsApp and we are humbled and honoured to reach this milestone.”

“We know that the more we connect, the more we have to protect,” it said. “As we conduct more of our lives online, protecting our conversations is more important than ever.

“That is why every private message sent using WhatsApp is secured with end-to-end encryption by default,” it said. “Strong encryption acts like an unbreakable digital lock that keeps the information you send over WhatsApp secure, helping protect you from hackers and criminals. Messages are only kept on your phone, and no one in between can read your messages or listen to your calls, not even us. Your private conversations stay between you.”

“Strong encryption is a necessity in modern life,” it added. “We will not compromise on security because that would make people less safe. For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues – without sacrificing privacy.”

Facebook had acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for a staggering $22bn, despite the fact that WhatsApp at the time had a tiny revenue stream.

Advertising policy

When WhatsApp first launched in 2009, it had a strong privacy leaning and its creators promised it would not sell its users’ data or put ads on the platform.

Read our Tales in Tech History about WhatsApp’s early days.

Instead, it charged a yearly fee of 99 cents in order to generate revenue and cover the costs of hosting the chats.

But gradually this stance was weakened under Zuckerberg’s ownership, as the old guard was removed.

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton for example left Facebook in November 2017 over concerns about the way Facebook “probed” at the app’s end-to-end encryption and its desire to monetise its messaging platform.

He was followed by the other co-founder, Jan Koum, who in May 2018 departed Facebook after he also reportedly clashed with its attempts to use personal data and weaken its encryption.

In May 2019 Facebook confirmed that WhatsApp would begin to carry adverts from 2020, after warning it would do so previously.

But it has been recently reported that Facebook is once again backing off its advertising plan for WhatsApp.

Quiz: Think you know all about Facebook?

Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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