Credit to Author: Boone Ashworth| Date: Fri, 08 Nov 2019 20:06:33 +0000
The cofounder of the messaging service and the current chair of the Signal Foundation talks about the proliferation of end-to-end encryption in personal communications.
“There’s a global education that’s happening,” says Brian Acton, who left WhatsApp in 2018 and now chairs the nonprofit Signal Foundation, which promotes open source, end-to-end encryption in messaging. “Back in the ‘90s, we all got the same hoax emails, and we all learned to ignore them. Today privacy is becoming a much more mainstream discussion. People are asking questions about privacy, and they want security and privacy built into the terms of service.”
"We want to be in the business of not knowing the people who are using the product."
Brian Acton, the Signal Foundation
Acton cofounded WhatsApp in 2009, and he began working with Signal cofounder Moxie Marlinspike in 2013 when they began the process of incorporating end-to-end encryption into WhatsApp. The time was right to do so, says Acton. WhatsApp had 400 million users. As more and more people began using the service, WhatsApp drew the attention of law enforcement officials. Subpoenas for user information were rolling in. Acton grew afraid that WhatsApp would turn into a mass surveillance dragnet.
Acton and his cofounder sold the messaging service to Facebook in 2014. After an acrimonious split with the social media giant in 2018, Acton left Facebook to cocreate the Signal Technology Foundation with Marlinspike.
By promoting privacy and anonymity in communications, Acton has faced criticism for affording the same services to not only the white hats but the black hats too—criminals and other bad actors. Acton has remained agnostic, preferring to make the service available without policing who can use it.
“In general we want to be in the business of not knowing the people who are using the product,” Acton says. “The bad guys are always going to be bad guys. But the good guys—lawyers, the press—they need the technology, and they need the education.”