Private messaging platforms like Messenger, Signal, Telegram, WeChat, and WhatsApp are seminal technologies. By assuring private communication on a global scale, these innovations expand and protect democracy as well as our human rights. They have fundamentally reshaped human connection.
But many of the platforms’ current design choices and business decisions also make them objectively unsafe and unworthy of our trust. Under today’s paradigm, tech companies are incentivized to target and acquire massive user bases, engineer for convenience and minimal friction, and maximize engagement and virality. Some go as far as harvesting reams of data about users that can then be monetized. This is problematic because their scale, group sizes and dynamics, and focus on convenience and speed also enable the spread of mis- and disinformation.
Omidyar Network believes in the promise of this type of technological innovation. We also believe tools with this depth of political, economic, social, and cultural influence must be held to the highest standards of trustworthiness and safety.
Our Perspective: Eyes Off, Responsibility On
Read our full vision and strategy: “Beyond Encryption: Our Vision for Trustworthy Messaging in a Viral World”
We believe the most effective solutions lie in confronting the suboptimal design choices of platforms themselves, rather than trying to censor problematic content and objectionable behavior, which can quickly result in many questions and concerns about users’ rights to privacy and freedom of speech.
As a free and open society, we cannot resort to polarized and absolutist positions like attacks on encryption. Studies have shown solutions that require oversight of users’ content are rarely effective. These types of responses make us collectively less safe and make private messaging platforms less trustworthy.
Instead, messaging platforms and the companies who operate them should:
- Facilitate private communication and prohibit surveillance
- Respect all other human rights
- Modulate virality
- Grow responsibly without harmful design
- Clearly communicate design and policy changes
- Share insights about risks as well as the effectiveness and impact of their product decisions and policies
- Offer clear and accessible ways for users to report abuse and other harms
- Provide responsive remedies to risks and harms
For our vision to become reality, a wider group of stakeholders, including nonprofits, researchers, governments, and purpose-driven investors must also play a larger role in establishing a new set of conditions, including greater disclosure and transparency, a system of distributed governance and accountability (including enlightened regulation), and more collaborative research and innovation with technologists.
We have committed $10 million to support individuals and organizations that are working to make private messaging platforms more trustworthy (and as a result, safer). Our partners research the risks and harms, and educate tech companies and governments on how to preserve privacy protections while making the necessary product and policy changes to stop the viral spread of conspiracy theories, destabilizing hoaxes, fake news, false claims, minority-targeting speech, and organized disinformation campaigns.
- Beyond Encryption: Our Vision for Trustworthy Messaging in a Viral World
- Keeping Misinformation, Hate, and Violence from Going Viral
- Why We’ve Invested in Fighting Disinformation and Dangerous Speech on WhatsApp and Other Encrypted Messaging Platforms
- (WIRED) Metadata From Encrypted Messages Can Keep People Safe
- (Techonomy) WhatsApp is a Threat to Society. Here’s How to Fix It.
- Can Encrypted Messaging Be Safe, Inclusive, and Respect Human Rights?