France is making its own WhatsApp clone in response to surveillance fears

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France is building its own alternative to WhatsApp for French government officials, after concerns that foreign agents could use other services to spy on communications.

The messaging app is being built using free-to-use code from the internet, and will be heavily encrypted. The data centers will be located in France itself, where the French government can assure their safety and take steps to bolster its defenses wherever needed. Around 20 French government officials are currently testing the app, according to a French spokeswoman, and the aim is to have use of the service mandatory for all government employees by the summer.

While a large portion of modern messaging apps use end-to-end encryption to secure conversations from outside agents, there has been a rising tide of opposition from governments who feel they should be allowed access to certain messages in order to better protect national interests. Brazil took on chat giant WhatsApp over encryption in 2016, while another chat service, Telegram, has recently been banned in Russia because of the developers’ refusal to allow access to chat logs.

This particular case is likely much more relevant to France’s interests, as President Emmanuel Macron is apparently very fond of the chat app. While encryption has stayed secure on most chat apps, it’s clear that France isn’t willing to bet its data safety on that status quo.

“We need to find a way to have an encrypted messaging service that is not encrypted by the United States or Russia,” the spokeswoman said. “You start thinking about the potential breaches that could happen, as we saw with Facebook, so we should take the lead.”

Also likely to be central to the development of the new app are the growing concerns of data safety following the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. WhatsApp has been owned by the social media giant since 2014, and the scandal has heavily impacted Facebook’s reputation for security. The data-based scandal became so serious, of course, that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to testify before the U.S. Congress. WhatsApp also has a checkered past when it comes to data security, with hackers having accessed sensitive data, and having broken into private group conversations.

With data safety and security becoming increasingly relevant in our modern world, don’t expect France to be the last country to take these sorts of steps.

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