WhatsApp, the popular online messaging service, recently changed the landscape of the encryption debate after announcing that their entire platform, between all devices, would offer end-to-end encryption. This announcement was made on the tail end of Apple’s dispute with the FBI, precisely about breaking into encrypted iPhones. This past week, Viber, another popular messaging app, announced that their latest update would also include end-to-end encryption for all of its users. While this may just seem like another example of encryption making its way onto popular apps, the case with Viber is particularly more salient in proving just how futile it is for Congress to try to restrict encryption.
Viber started in 2010 as another online messaging platform to compete with rivals such as Skype and WhatsApp. Since its inception, the app had included some form of encryption, albeit in limited capacities. This privacy has always been particularly important for Michael Shmilov, the company’s chief operating officer, who has cited the 2014 hack into several celebrities’ iCloud accounts as driving motivation to provide users with privacy and security. Since that time, Viber has amassed 700 million users around the world, giving it comparable importance in the market to WhatsApp.
What is particularly unique about Viber, though, is that it isn’t an American company. The company was started in Israel and bought out by the Japanese tech conglomerate, Rakuten, in 2014. Most of Viber’s users reside outside of the United States, as well, making it the most notable example of a foreign messaging service enabling total encryption. As such, Viber resides outside the United States’ jurisdiction should any federal agency try to compel the company to weaken their encryption standards.
While political efforts, like the Feinstein-Burr bill, would severely cripple the ability for American companies to offer encryption to their customers, these people can now just start using foreign services, like Viber, and take their business elsewhere. Now, Congress’ anti-encryption endeavors would not only just negatively impact the privacy and security of American citizens, but American tech companies will now start suffering from burdensome regulations. It doesn’t take a computer scientist to realize when certain proposals will start hurting the American economy, and the anti-encryption bill floating around Congress would now do just that.
For Viber and its customers, the company’s move towards total encryption is a victory for privacy and data security around the world. In the US, the fight for encryption has now evolved beyond these values alone. For American companies like Apple and WhatsApp to continue to have a competitive edge in the world of online communication, the federal government should abandon its quest to dismantle encryption standards. If not, the privacy, security, and now financial well-being, of the American people would be in jeopardy.