France builds WhatsApp-like service to avoid privacy breaches

Existing encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram run the risk of a data leak, so France is building an alternative.

Zoey Chong Reporter
Zoey is CNET's Asia News Reporter based in Singapore. She prefers variety to monotony and owns an Android mobile device, a Windows PC and Apple's MacBook Pro all at the same time. Outside of the office, she can be found binging on Korean variety shows, if not chilling out with a book at a café recommended by a friend.
Zoey Chong
2 min read
Telegram Messaging App

The French government is looking to move officials away from popular apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram -- even if the French president likes using them.

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As Facebook continues to reel from the Cambridge Analytica saga, the French government is taking precautions against the social media behemoth's WhatsApp service.

The French government is developing its own encrypted messaging service, Reuters reported Monday. The goal is to alleviate concerns about privacy breaches, which could result in the leaking of private conversations between top officials to foreign parties.

The French government's privacy concerns come amid a backlash against Facebook following a massive data leak concerning millions of users. WhatsApp, which provides encrypted messaging services, is owned by Facebook and shares user information with its parent company -- something that hasn't sat well with privacy regulators.

In December 2016, the European Union expressed concerns over Facebook's access to WhatsApp users' data. Just a month later, the popular social messaging platform was sued in German court over the issue, while French privacy watchdog CNIL warned WhatsApp in the same year to stop sharing user data with Facebook or risk a fine. Last month, Facebook agreed not to access any data from WhatsApp until its activities are considered compliant with a Europe-wide General Data Protection Regulation expected in May.

A bigger problem, however, is that WhatsApp -- and Telegram, another popular encrypted messaging service which Reuters pointed out the French president is fond of -- isn't based in France. This could heighten chances of a data breach at overseas servers, according to Reuters.

The French government isn't alone in ramping up efforts to guard against privacy breaches. In Australia, the Defence Department barred officials from using officials from using Chinese social messaging platform WeChat on their phones last month, a move that is likely related to data security fears in the country.

While few details are available on the French-built messaging service, a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters the app is being designed by a "state-employed developer" and tested by "about 20 officials and top civil servants." It is hoped that the use of this app will become mandatory across the government by this summer before being rolled out to all French citizens, she added.

CNET has reached out to the French government for a comment.

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