Germany Warns Against Using WhatsApp in Wake of European Parliament Data Leak

  • A German Government Commissioner sent a letter to all German ministries warning against using WhatsApp.
  • The warning comes right after a European Parliament data leak.
  • Russia and Iran like WhatsApp since it allows them to spy on their citizens and foreign nationals.

The German Government warned federal employees against using the WhatsApp messenger. The information became available on May 17 via Handelsblatt, a leading German-language business newspaper published in Düsseldorf by Verlagsgruppe Handelsblatt. It was founded in the 1946.  The newspaper claims the source of this announcement is a letter from the German Government Commissioner for Data Protection Ulrich Wolfgang Kelber. He sent the letter to all the ministries with a warning.

Kelber is a German former politician of the Social Democratic Party who has been serving as the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information since January 2019. From 2000 to 2019, he was a member of the Bundestag.

German Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information Ulrich Kelber.

The letter states that when a user sends messages using WhatsApp, the app receives metadata every time Facebook transmits the message. Facebook owns WhatsApp, a free messaging app available for Android and other smartphones. WhatsApp uses your phone’s Internet connection.

Kelber states that Facebook can get the IP address, location data, as well as the information about smartphone uses and the operation system. Additionally, it downloads the date and time of the sent message. Facebook can then create a user profile which will include their employment, hobbies, personal choices, financial information, income etc.

The scary part is this even includes the medical history of the user. WhatsApp isn’t open source, so security researchers can’t easily check whether there are backdoors. Not only does WhatsApp not publish the code, they do the exact opposite: WhatsApp specifically obfuscates the binaries of its apps so that no one can scrutinize them.

Two years ago, the founders of WhatsApp left the company due to concerns about user privacy. They are bound by very extensive NDA agreements, so they cannot publicly discuss backdoors without risking losing their fortune and freedom. However, they were able to admit that they “sold the privacy of their users.” WhatsApp, by backing up chats in iCloud instead of using internal servers, risks user privacy because Apple does not encrypt data in iCloud.

Kelber recommends banning German government employees from using WhatsApp.

The information coincides with a major data leak that occurred on May 17. The European Union reported that personal data of over 1,000 employees and members of the European Parliament was leaked. To be precise over 1,200 accounts of elected officials and employees were publicly available, as well as the personal information of 15,000 EU Affairs specialists.

It is not the first time there have been privacy and security concerns using WhatsApp. In March, professional hacker Jake Davis (also known as Topiary and who worked previously for Anonymous) warned of the privacy concerns from using WhatsApp.

That is also why Russia and Iran like WhatsApp, since those governments can easily spy on their citizens and even foreign nationals.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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