The situation the platform is addressing is a bit complex, so bear with us for a moment. “Most calling products”, according to WhatsApp, utilize a direct peer-to-peer connection between two people. This allows for “faster data transfer and better call quality”, but requires participating devices to know “each other’s IP address”, so data packets are sent back and forth to maintain connectivity. However, if a bad actor has the right technical expertise, they could intercept one of these packets, obtaining sensitive information about their target like their “broad geographical location or internet provider.”
To address this issue, WhatsApp is implementing Protect IP Address in Calls, a tool that will relay phone calls you make on the service through company servers. This will ensure any potential cybercriminals lurking out there will not be able to see your or anyone else’s IP address. Of course, calls will remain end-to-end encrypted.
There is a catch. Because you'll be eschewing a direct connection, activating this feature will reduce call quality. It won’t be as crystal clear as it would be if it was peer-to-peer.
Specialized privacy protection
There is some debate online over whether or not it’s even possible for someone to obtain an IP address through a phone call.
Most argue “No, it’s not”, however, UK communications company Ocean Telecom claims it is possible if the call is placed through a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) connection, which is what WhatsApp uses for its service. There’s a special technique called “packet sniffing” where a cybercriminal could intercept a data packet containing sensitive information.
But as we said earlier, that requires a certain amount of technical expertise. This isn’t something anyone can do nor is this a feature everyone will use.
WhatsApp states in the email they sent to us that Protect IP Address in Calls is meant for their “most privacy-conscious users” who want the choice to relay calls through the servers. The standard level of security on WhatsApp is enough for the majority of people
Keep an eye out for the patch once it arrives on your phone. Instructions on how to enable this tool can be found on the platform’s official Help Center website. It can be found in the Advanced section of the app’s Settings menu.
We reached out to WhatsApp asking if there are plans to expand this update to WhatsApp on desktop or web, as well as why relaying phone calls through the server reduces call quality. This story will be updated if we hear back.
If you're looking for other high-security platforms, check out TechRadar's list of the best encrypted messaging apps for Android of 2023.
Update 11-9-2023: A company representative got back to us and informed us the update is making its way to the WhatsApp client on macOS as well. No word on if or when it'll make its way to the Windows version. Additionally, they stated call quality may not suffer at all when relaying through a server. It depends on how good or bad a peer-to-peer connection is. In certain scenarios, a server connection will be better.
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Cesar Cadenas has been writing about the tech industry for several years now specializing in consumer electronics, entertainment devices, Windows, and the gaming industry. But he’s also passionate about smartphones, GPUs, and cybersecurity.