According to a recent report, the French government is currently developing an end-to-end encrypted alternative to WhatsApp and Telegram that its officials could use without worrying about foreign spying.
A Matrix/Riot-Based Chat Application
Although the French government’s spokesperson said that the government’s app will be based on open source software found freely available on the internet, she declined to name it. However, Matrix developers have confirmed that the app in question will be based on the federated chat Matrix protocol (a more modern XMPP/Jabber competitor) and, more specifically, on the Riot client, which uses this protocol.
Riot also comes with built-in support for the double ratchet end-to-end encryption algorithm, also used by Signal. Riot uses a variant of the double ratchet algorithm called Olm for strong end-to-end encryption for private conversations between two individuals, and Megolm, a variant for end-to-end encrypted group chats.
Megolm has variable privacy options in its library that developers will have to tweak before deploying. The reason for this is that some developers may prefer additional user convenience over maximum security.
Taking Control Of Own Data
The recent Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal seems to have reminded the French government and others, too, that you don’t have much control over your data if it’s being stored and processed by someone else. The French government will be able to fully control the Riot-based application by using open source code with its own modifications, if needed, and then run it on its own servers.
The French government’s spokesperson said that eventually this app may be available to everyone. However, French citizens will need to consider the fact that the app could also make enable their own government to spy on them more easily.
If the app’s source code remains public and transparent, and end-to-end encryption is enabled by default, it may not be a significant concern. It may still be preferable for citizens to use some other secure application developed by a non-profit group, whether that group is French or foreign.
What is Matrix
Matrix is an open standard for interoperable, decentralised, real-time communication over IP. It can be used to power Instant Messaging, VoIP/WebRTC signalling, Internet of Things communication – or anywhere you need a standard HTTP API for publishing and subscribing to data whilst tracking the conversation history.