Only 1 in 250 understand role of encryption in securing messaging: Study

Business Standard, March 17, 2021

Only one in 250 people understood how end-to-end encryption secures the privacy of their chats on messaging apps and are willing to pay some amount to protect their conversations, a study has found.

“Understanding Consumers Perspective on Encryption in India,” by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS International), had 2,113 respondents aged between 18 and 65.

All respondents– an almost equal number of males and females–used WhatsApp, 20 per cent used Telegram, 8 per cent used iMessage, 2 per cent used Signal, 1 per cent used Viber, and 2 per cent used Line. People are willing to pay Re 1 per day, on an average, to secure their conversations, said the study.

Encryption is the practice of scrambling data to make it unintelligible for even the service providers. It keeps conversations private but has equally been abused for the spread of fake news and criminal activity. Technologists and privacy experts have always argued that breaking encryption is the first step towards government surveillance on its own citizens.

The new social media rules, notified by the government last month, also ask platforms like WhatsApp to identify the originator of content. Even though IT minister Ravi Shanker Prasad said the government would only want intermediaries to identify the originator and not the content of problematic messages, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has earlier said that attributing messages on the platform would undermine the end-to-end encryption, and its private nature, leading to possibilities of being misused.

As many as 45 per cent respondents claimed to have wondered whether instant messaging service providers can access their messages, while 75 per cent of the respondents perceived the likelihood of unintended recipients accessing their chats increased by 75 per cent, if end-to-end (E2E) encryption is removed.

However, even though all the respondents were WhatsApp users, which swears by its end to end encryption, only 61 per cent of the respondents believed that their chats are end to end encrypted.

Respondents perceived privacy as the third most important benefit of using instant messaging services. Ease or convenience of use and the option of sending audio, video, GIFs and other forms of content on chat were the first two reasons.

Responding to a question on on the likelihood of unintended recipients accessing their chats if end-to-end encryption is removed, the surveyed people believed that there was no likelihood of third parties such as advertisers gaining access to their chats, and perceived little likelihood of suspicious third parties like cybercriminals, gaining access to their chats, if the chats remained E2E encrypted.

However, with respect to the government (law enforcement agencies) and service providers, respondents feared that there was substantial likelihood of them gaining access to their chats, even if their chats remained E2E encrypted.

Respondents perceived likelihood of unauthorised access increases sharply, in case E2E encryption is removed.

This news item can also be viewed at: