Lies, Damn Lies and “Secure” Messaging Apps

Last March 6th, the CEO of Facebook set out in a long blog post a new course for our trouble digital master, Facebook, to provide its 2 billion users unprecedented privacy for personal communications, a “digital equivalent of the living room” in his own words. He plans to deliver on such promise by merging its Messenger, WhataApp and Instagram messaging apps and making them more secure.

But can even a perfectly secure app deliver a private sphere of communication that enables a responsible exercise online in cyberspace of our constitutional rights right to privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly?

His promise echos similar unfulfilled promises by Steve Jobs in 1984, to save us from an Orwellian future, and Richard Stallman in 1983, when he launch GNU/Linux and the Free and Open Source Movement.

As unlikely as it sounds, Zuckerberg may well pull it off because of the astounding amount of deceptions and misconceptions surrounding the security that even the most secure messaging apps can provide.

At first, Facebook replaced public streets, squares and shopping malls, and the smaller fragmented online spaces of the first year of the Internet, with a single de-facto digital public sphere, a gigantic digital shopping mall with 24hrs surveillance cameras at every corner.

More recently, it bought its way into domination of personal and social messaging by buying off Whatsapp and Instagram, and implementing strong encryption technologies.

Facebook now claims to be setting out to create the “digital equivalent of the living room”, a digital transposition of what was the constitutionally guaranteed private sphere. They claim it will not only be secure, but secure even against hackers and governments, while also mitigating criminal abuse, and simply by integrating, enriching and further securing its Whatsapp, Instagram and Messenger messaging apps.

If after we learned that even Bezos and Trump can’t access a way to privately communicate with their personal associates, Facebook can still credibly claim to become the new privacy champion just by making their messaging apps more secure, it means that the level of deception on digital privacy is way beyond guard-level.

But truth is that even if their apps were perfectly secure - which is likely impossible - they would be extremely far from delivering on their promise. In fact, the security an app can not be is limited to the security of the device it runs on. And that security is “utterly weak”. Even the most secure portable device out there, the iPhone, is regularly hacked by even mid-level hackers, and compromisable at scale via public and private programs such as NSA FoxAcid, NSA Turbine and Hacking Team RCS.

Nearly all, except for rare clarification by digital rights organizations, fail to recognise this or do so in some rare posts or utterances. The New York Times thinks his business model is missing, while the EFF, the World leading digital rights organization, thinks it could all work with a third party audit entity.

Fact is there is a vicious a wide natural uncoordinated alignment of interests of several actors that produces a wild overstatement of the privacy provided by secure apps and secure devices, even on the face of a continuous barrage of revelations of government programs and systems vulnerabilities. These actors includes security agencies, happy to induce less expert criminals to use broken techs, secure messaging IT providers, happy to overstate the security of their wares, and cybersecurity journalists, often parroting the above, and looking for news even where there is none.

At TRUSTLESS.AI, and our NGO Trustless Computing Association, we are building nothing less than that very “digital equivalent of the living room” or “digital private sphere” that Zuckerberg promised but will never be able deliver, even if he wanted to.

In order to build the “digital equivalent of the living room” you need a new device that will seamlessly integrate, but separated by a wall, just like in the physical World we expect our living room to be separated by a wall from public urban spaces.

It will come in the form of a Seevik Pod a standalone 2mm-thin touch-screen device, that will become the default backscreen of tens of millions of Android phones, complementing our digital public sphere with a vibrant and secure private sphere.