Facebook, Apple and Telegram took the top positions in an Amnesty International survey of how top messaging app players use encryption to protect user privacy – while Tencent came in last with a score of zero.
Amnesty gave a low score to all firms not applying end-to-end encryption as default, or clearly informing users of the level of encryption applied, and believes this must be done as soon as possible.
Facebook took number one position with Messenger and WhatsApp, as it is “doing the most to use encryption to respond to human rights threats” and is “most transparent about the action it’s taking”.
The human rights organisation said WhatsApp is the only app where users are explicitly warned when end-to-end encryption is not applied to a particular chat, but cut points for Messenger not applying encryption as a default, and not warning users that regular conversations use a weaker form of encryption.
Facebook scored 73 out of 100.
Apple’s iMessage and Facetime, along with Telegram, scored 67. Amnesty lauded Apple for taking taking a “public stance against ‘encryption backdoors'” and disclosing government requests for data.
Telegram too was praised for taking a strong stance on protecting users’ privacy and freedom of expression. However, Amnesty found it surprising the firm does not put in end-to-end encryption as a default.
Google’s messaging apps Allo, Duo and Hangouts received a score of 53, while Line and Viber got 47. Line was criticised for not doing enough to inform users about threats to human rights, and for not publishing a transparency report, which was also the case for Viber.
Kakao (maker of KakaoTalk) came under significant pressure in 2014 following reports it had given the South Korean government information about its users, and has since taken steps to strengthen its level of encryption, giving it a score of 40.
Microsoft’s Skype got 40 as well, for using a weak form of encryption on Skype despite the firm’s strong policy commitment to human rights.
Snapchat received a low score of 26, and “needs to do more to inform users about how the company is tackling threats to their rights – particularly as Snapchat’s ‘disappearing’ messages may give users a false sense of privacy”, the report said.
BlackBerry did not fare much better with a score of 20 for BlackBerry Messenger, for making no public commitment to freedom of expression. It only offers end-to-end encryption as a paid service.
China’s Tencent came right at the bottom for its WeChat and QQ apps. “Not only did it fail to adequately meet any of the criteria, but it was the only company which has not stated publicly that it will not grant government requests to access encrypted messages by building a backdoor, Amnesty said.