Data encryption has been around for decades, but it has taken on a more political tone in the past few years. There has been a strong market push to encrypt messages and data on smartphones, but there has also been a strong pushback from governments who want a backdoor for the sake of security or other interests. For companies like Facebook, however, encrypting data like WhatsApp messages is both a selling factor and a potential business killer. Now the social networking giant is allegedly researching ways to still glean some juicy data for advertising purposes without breaking the security of encrypted data.
Encrypted data, whether information stored on phones or messages sent through communication services, is designed to keep unauthorized eyes from viewing the data. That includes not just hackers and criminals but also law enforcers and companies. For businesses that rely on such information for targeted ads, that means having no access to profitable data points.
However, there might be a way for companies like Facebook to actually have their encrypted cake and eat it too. Along with Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, to name a few, tech giants are pouring resources into a field known as homomorphic encryption. In a nutshell, the goal is to be able to analyze encrypted data without decrypting it, which would imply weak encryption or backdoors.
This could be a gold mine for Facebook, of course, as it could allow the company to glean enough data for targeted advertising without actually backtracking on its public commitment to securing its users’ privacy. How it plans to make that happen will mostly depend on how successful the research will be, but it’s a distinct possibility considering the large companies behind the endeavor. Naturally, those large companies would also benefit from such a method of extracting personal information from encrypted data.
Facebook tells The Information, however, that it’s too early to associate this research with encrypted WhatsApp data. The social media company has already been grilled to no end about its questionable privacy practices, and any suggestion that it is working on a way to get around security safeguards will undoubtedly hurt its image even further.