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WhatsApp Boss Clashes with Elon Musk Over Data Privacy Claims

WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart has publicly disputed allegations made by Elon Musk that the messaging app “exports your user data every night.” Cathcart took to X (formerly Twitter) to assert that Musk’s claims are “not correct,” emphasizing that WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted and cannot be read by the company.

Cathcart’s defence was supported by Yann LeCun, Meta’s artificial intelligence chief, who used strong language in his X post to counter Musk’s accusations. LeCun continued his criticisms on another Meta platform, Threads, accusing Musk of making contradictory and unrealistic statements about artificial intelligence and spreading conspiracy theories on social media.

Musk, known for his contentious online presence, often finds himself embroiled in public disputes. In this instance, Cathcart highlighted that WhatsApp’s encryption ensures only the sender and recipient can read messages. The company’s stance on encryption is so robust that it has previously indicated it would rather face a ban in the UK than compromise on its encryption standards.

However, Musk’s comments on “user data” being uploaded might refer to metadata rather than the actual message content. Security researcher Tommy Mysk pointed out that while WhatsApp messages are encrypted, metadata—such as user location, contact information, and online activity patterns—is still collected.

WhatsApp does share some metadata with other Meta-owned platforms, but this does not include the content of messages. Dr. Tristan Henderson, a computer science lecturer at the University of St Andrews, noted that this metadata is sufficient for Meta to make recommendations and show personalized advertisements, highlighting the extent of information that metadata can reveal.

The WhatsApp Privacy Policy confirms that the company uses some user data to “show relevant offers and ads across the Meta Company Products.”

The BBC has reached out to Meta for further comment on the matter.

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