France builds WhatsApp-like service to avoid privacy breaches
As Facebook continues to reel from the Cambridge Analytica saga, the French government is taking precautions against the social media behemoth's WhatsApp service.
The French government is developing its own encrypted messaging service, Reuters reported Monday. The goal is to alleviate concerns about privacy breaches, which could result in the leaking of private conversations between top officials to foreign parties.
The French government's privacy concerns come amid a backlash against Facebook following a massive data leak concerning millions of users. WhatsApp, which provides encrypted messaging services, is owned by Facebook and shares user information with its parent company -- something that hasn't sat well with privacy regulators.
In December 2016, the European Union expressed concerns over Facebook's access to WhatsApp users' data. Just a month later, the popular social messaging platform was sued in German court over the issue, while French privacy watchdog CNIL warned WhatsApp in the same year to stop sharing user data with Facebook or risk a fine. Last month, Facebook agreed not to access any data from WhatsApp until its activities are considered compliant with a Europe-wide General Data Protection Regulation expected in May.
A bigger problem, however, is that WhatsApp -- and Telegram, another popular encrypted messaging service which Reuters pointed out the French president is fond of -- isn't based in France. This could heighten chances of a data breach at overseas servers, according to Reuters.
The French government isn't alone in ramping up efforts to guard against privacy breaches. In Australia, the Defence Department barred officials from using officials from using Chinese social messaging platform WeChat on their phones last month, a move that is likely related to data security fears in the country.
While few details are available on the French-built messaging service, a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters the app is being designed by a "state-employed developer" and tested by "about 20 officials and top civil servants." It is hoped that the use of this app will become mandatory across the government by this summer before being rolled out to all French citizens, she added.