• Head of WhatsApp Will Cathcart told the Wall Street Journal the app now has 2 billion users.
  • WhatsApp has accumulated 500 million more users since 2018, but still has fewer users than the core Facebook app.
  • Cathcart stressed that WhatsApp is going to fight to keep its platform encrypted and private despite pressure from the US government and others to build ways for law enforcement to access private chats.
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WhatsApp is bracing itself for a clash with the US government over encryption.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday, head of WhatsApp Will Cathcart revealed the messaging app has now hit 2 billion users, up from 1.5 billion two years ago. It still falls behind Facebook core app, which has 2.5 billion users worldwide.

Cathcart used the interview as a chance to draw a line in the sand over end-to-end encryption, the system that allows WhatsApp users' messages to stay private and inaccessible even by WhatsApp itself.

Recently WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook have come under pressure from the US government to create ways for law enforcement to circumvent encryption. Attorney General William Barr last year asked Facebook to delay its plans for encrypting all its messaging platforms - which Facebook rejected.

"For all of human history, people have been able to communicate privately with each other [...] And we don't think that should go away in a modern society," Cathcart told the Journal.

The US isn't the only government that's been pressuring WhatsApp to provide encryption backdoors. Last year the allied "Five Eyes" countries (the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) united in pushing for encrypted services to build "safeguards" for law enforcement - but stopped short of calling for actual technological "backdoors," security vulnerabilities deliberately left in a system.

The argument against backdoors runs that they weaken the system as a whole as they could be exploited by malicious actors other than law enforcement.

Cathcart said that despite Faceook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's grand plans to weave together Facebook's suite of social media platforms including Instagram and WhatsApp, WhatsApp's engineers are still focused on a constrained set of products comprising private messaging, payments, and customer-service tools for businesses.

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