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A hot potato: Facebook is reportedly building a team that’ll be tasked with learning how to analyze encrypted data without decrypting it. Given the company's rocky history with user privacy, this seems like the last sort of thing they'd want to have anything to do with, yet here we are.
The social networking giant confirmed as much to The Information (paywalled), and is apparently one of several tech companies interested in a field known as homomorphic encryption. Outside experts told the publication that Facebook could be interested in studying encrypted messages on its WhatsApp messaging platform for targeted advertising purposes.
Optionally, Facebook might want to further encrypt information it has on its users without impacting its ad-targeting capabilities.
Regardless of intent, the whole thing feels disgustingly immoral and could potentially open up a whole new can of worms. If Facebook or others (Amazon, Google and Microsoft were named specifically by The Information) can glean actionable information from encrypted data, can you still technically label it encrypted?
And what sort of legal grounds are we stepping on here? If the companies in question technically aren’t trying to crack the encryption, is the practice illegal? And if tech companies are able to gather information from encrypted data, what would stop a government agency or even a nefarious third party from doing the same?