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New EU rules to undermine encryption

The European Union agreed upon the Digital Markets Act last week in a bid to stop domination of the market by companies such as Apple, Google, and Meta. The act classifies these ‘gatekeepers’ as companies with a market capitalisation of a minimum of €75 billion Euros and a user base of 45 million monthly users. 

It also outlines that they would have to “create products that are interoperable with smaller platforms”. This means that messaging apps such as Meta’s Messenger and in particular WhatsApp would have to be interoperable with less secure messaging services such as SMS. Because of this, there may be an end to WhatsApp’s promise of end-to-end encryption. 

However, the European Parliament says that the ruling would mean that “users of small or big platforms would then be able to exchange messages, send files, or make video calls across messaging apps, thus giving them more choice”. 

Users may dislike interoperability, as outlined by Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, who says that “iMessage already has interop: it’s called SMS, and users really dislike it” and added that “it has really bad security properties that aren’t explained by green bubbles”. 

However, others believe that the benefits outweigh the cons in this instance, with Matrix co-founder, Matthew Hodgson saying that gatekeepers dismiss the effects and effort of interoperability as “not being worthwhile” as the whole point of creating a company is to “build a walled garden, and having built one… try to trap as many users as possible”. 

The EU has created the Digital Markets Act in a bid to prevent monopolies, but it will bring up issues surrounding security. Each messaging provider is currently responsible for its own security, but this will change once services become interoperable. In regards to this, the EU Parliament agreed that the laws will only allow companies to use personal data for “targeted advertising when explicit consent has been provided by a gatekeeper” business. 

The new laws were agreed upon last week and will be sent to the EU Parliament and Council for approval. Once this has gone through, the act will become law twenty days after its publication. 

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