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18 Jan, 2022 12:47

UK plans PR blitz against chat privacy – media

The government has reportedly backed a campaign designed to make the public ‘uneasy’ about end-to-end encryption
UK plans PR blitz against chat privacy – media

Privacy watchdogs have accused the UK government of “scaremongering” after reports emerged of its plans to use emotive stunts in a taxpayer-funded ad campaign to sway public opinion against end-to-end encryption in messaging apps.

The ad drive is reportedly part of a “multi-pronged publicity attack” on the data security method (used in popular apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal), which alleges that end-to-end encryption (E2EE) impedes efforts to combat online child abuse, according to Rolling Stone.

The Home Office-backed push – which apparently specifically targets Meta’s plans to roll out E2EE to its Facebook Messenger app – includes a media blitz and the involvement of UK charities and law enforcement agencies, presentation materials accessed by the publication revealed.

It will reportedly feature live publicity stunts designed to make the public “uneasy,” according to a slideshow prepared by the M&C Saatchi ad agency to recruit non-profit partners to the campaign. One slide apparently notes that “most of the public have never heard” of E2EE, meaning that “people can be easily swayed” on the issue. But it warns that the campaign “must not start a privacy vs safety debate.”

Among the proposed stunts include placing adult and child actors in a glass box that fades to black as the adult looks “knowingly” at the child. There will also be call-to-action efforts, including a “social media activation where we ask parents to write to Mark [Zuckerberg] via their Facebook status.”

The government has allocated £534,000 ($726,157) for the campaign, the Home Office had confirmed in response to an earlier freedom of information request. Last year, Home Secretary Priti Patel told Meta that its plans to introduce E2EE on Facebook Messenger and Instagram are “unacceptable.”

On Tuesday, the BBC reported that a coalition of “child safety campaigners, charities, tech experts and survivors of child sex abuse” recruited by M&C Saatchi and supported by the Home Office launched the ‘No Place to Hide’ campaign, which equates E2EE roll-outs to “turning the lights off on the ability to identify child sex abusers online.”

While the Home Office did not comment on the Rolling Stone report, it told the BBC that “the UK government supports encryption, and believes that E2EE can be implemented responsibly in a way which is consistent with public safety.”

However, privacy advocates branded the plans as “scaremongering” and “disingenuous,” with Robin Wilton from the Internet Society telling Rolling Stone that a lack of E2EE could leave children “more vulnerable online than ever.”