Amnesty evaluated how messaging apps use encryption to protect users’ private communications and gave Skype and Snapchat a rather low score.
Amnesty is making encryption a human rights necessity, due to concerns that activists, opposition politicians and journalists in some countries could be in danger if their communications on popular messaging apps was hacked.
Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of Amnesty’s technology and human rights team said activists around the world rely on encryption to protect themselves from spying by authorities, and it is unacceptable for technology companies to expose them to danger by failing to adequately respond to the human rights risks.
“The future of privacy and free speech online depends to a very large extent on whether tech companies provide services that protect our communications, or serve them up on a plate for prying eyes. Young people, the most prolific sharers of personal details and photos over apps like Snapchat, are especially at risk.”
Amnesty’s metrics ranked apps on a scale of one to 100, factoring in how they recognise potential threats to their users, apply end-to-end encryption, inform users of their rights and of security measures in place, and share details of government requests for user data.
BlackBerry, Snapchat and China’s Tencent received Amnesty’s worst grades, all scoring less than 30 out of 100. None of these companies use end-to-end encryption.
In general, the company’s security philosophy is based around deleting content; the phrase “Delete is our default” figures prominently on Snapchat’s website. Most messages sent through Snapchat automatically delete themselves once they’ve been viewed or have expired (although they can be captured and saved in screenshots).
Viollis, who does not use Snapchat, urges users not to be lulled by the app’s “false sense of security”.
“There’s no electronic eraser. You can’t press retrieve. Whatever is on the internet will live there forever,” he said.
Microsoft’s Skype also fared poorly, receiving 40 out of 100. Skype uses encryption, but not end-to-end encryption for its instant messaging, according to Amnesty.
Microsoft said that while it agreed with Amnesty about the importance of encryption,the report does not reflect Skype’s comprehensive work to protect people’s privacy and security.
“Skype uses encryption and a range of other technical security measures, and we protect people’s privacy through legal challenges, advocacy, and strong policies to notify customers when we receive government requests for their data or detect attempted third party intrusions,” a spokesVole said.