Guardian's WhatsApp Article was Flawed, Guardian didn't respond

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Five months after publication, the Guardian‘s readers editor Paul Chadwick concluded the newspaper’s January article on messaging service WhatsApp was “flawed.  The article, Chadwick noted, “overstated the risk” of someone hacking into WhatsApp messages while they are in transmission.

In addition to the errors in the story, the Guardian also failed to respond properly to critics of the article, Chadwick found in his review. More than 70 experts signed an open letter critical of the Guardian‘s story, but the newspaper didn’t respond properly or, as Chadwick put it, “in a way commensurate with the combined stature of the critics and the huge number of people potentially affected by the story.”

After talking to experts, Chadwick said the potential risk wasn’t that great and it would be hard for anyone to hack messages. WhatsApp has more than 1 billion users, according to its website, and was bought by Facebook in 2014.

The Guardian was wrong to report in January that the popular messaging service WhatsApp had a security flaw so serious that it was a huge threat to freedom of speech,” Chadwick wrote. The exaggerated reporting had real effects, he noted, explaining that one Turkish government official pointed to the article as a reason for people not to use WhatsApp and other activists decided against using WhatsApp’s secure messaging because of the article. iMediaEthics has written to WhatsApp to ask what response it saw to the article — were users complaining or not using the service, for example.

“In a detailed review I found that misinterpretations, mistakes and misunderstandings happened at several stages of the reporting and editing process,” Chadwick explained. “Cumulatively they produced an article that overstated its case.”

The Guardian‘s Jan. 13 article, “WhatsApp design feature means some encrypted messages could be read by third party,” now links to Chadwick’s review. Chadwick was appointed readers editor for the Guardian in May 2016 and began his term, which has no limit, in June. Chadwick identified the “most serious inaccuracy” in the Guardian‘s article as the claim that there was a “backdoor” making it possible for people to read others’ private messages. According to Chadwick, the Guardian corrected the error within eight hours, but didn’t properly and fully fix the error because the story still included claims based on that error. “In effect, having dialed back the cause for alarm, the Guardian failed to dial back expressions of alarm,” Chadwick explained.

The article currently has the following correction:

“This article was amended on 13 January 2017 to remove the word “backdoor” to describe the design feature; on 25 January 2017 to summarise and link to concerns of security experts about the article; and on 28 June 2017 following the findings of a review by the Guardian readers’ editor, which can be read here.”

In response to Chadwick’s criticism, a spokesperson for the Guardian provided iMediaEthics with the following statement:“Following an investigation by the Guardian‘s independent readers’ editor we accept that there were a number of mistakes and misinterpretations in the original story we published about WhatsApp. In light of this we have published an amended news story and have made corrections to other pieces published on the subject.”

Hat Tip: Press Gazette

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Guardian’s WhatsApp article ‘flawed,’ Guardian didn’t properly respond to 70+ experts’ criticism

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