Facebook, Apple rank high on messaging privacy while Snapchat scores low

How private are your messages really?

Facebook and Apple fare best in a new Amnesty International report ranking 11 tech companies that offer messaging services. Snapchat and Microsoft (Skype) are near the bottom.

“If you think instant messaging services are private, you are in for a big surprise,” Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights Team, said in a statement. “The reality is that our communications are under constant threat from cybercriminals and spying by state authorities. Young people, the most prolific sharers of personal details and photos over apps like Snapchat, are especially at risk.”

Amnesty International rankings take into account the companies’ encryption practices — whether they employ end-to-end encryption by default, and whether they explain the risks to users and disclose technical details — plus whether the companies disclose government requests for user data.

Facebook, which owns Messenger and WhatsApp, scored 73 out of 100. The two messaging services are the most widely used in the world, with 1 billion users each. WhatsApp messages, photos, etc. are encrypted by default. Messenger communications can be encrypted but the feature is not turned on by default, with Facebook citing multi-device use of Messenger as a complicating factor. Amnesty said WhatsApp needs to improve its explanation of the risks users face when they back up their data to the cloud, and Messenger needs to better warn users of their privacy risks, especially when in regular mode.

Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime have end-to-end encryption turned on by default. The company scored 67 out of 100 in Amnesty’s ranking. However, Amnesty warned that the encryption doesn’t guarantee security, citing research from Johns Hopkins University that found “significant vulnerabilities” that could be exploited to decrypt iMessages. Apple also scored high because of its twice-a-year transparency report. But Amnesty said Apple could do better on informing users about risks to their security and human rights when using its messaging apps.

Skype and Snapchat got 40 and 26 out of 100, respectively. Neither service offers end-to-end encryption, according to Amnesty. However, Microsoft-owned Skype does recognize online threats to human rights. Skype and Snapchat both disclose government requests for user data.

Google was ranked near the middle for its varied messaging services: Hangout, and the new Allo and Duo.

Here are the rankings for the 11 companies:

  1. Facebook, 73 out of 100
  2. Apple, 67
  3. Telegram, 67
  4. Google, 53
  5. Line, 47
  6. Viber Media, 47
  7. Kakao, 40
  8. Microsoft, 40
  9. Snapchat, 26
  10. BlackBerry, 20
  11. Tencent, 0

To read the complete report, click here.

Update: Microsoft disputes Amnesty’s assertion that Skype does not offer end-to-end encryption.

“This report does not accurately reflect Skype’s comprehensive work to protect people’s privacy and security,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said. “Skype uses encryption and a range of other technical security measures, and we protect people’s privacy through legal challenges, advocacy, and strong policies to notify customers when we receive government requests for their data or detect attempted third party intrusions.”

 

Photo: Icons for Skype and Facebook’s Messenger apps on a smartphone. (AP)

 

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  • Emeraldo

    Why didn’t they include Threema, the most secure messengers of them all? What were they thinking?

 
 
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