French ministers have been ordered to ditch WhatsApp for a homegrown alternative in a push for “technological sovereignty”.
Prime minister Élisabeth Borne has told ministers and top officials to switch to Olvid, which Ms Borne’s office claimed was more secure than popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal.
Government officials have been told “to replace other instant messaging services in order to strengthen the security of exchanges”.
A circular from Ms Borne’s office said: “The main consumer instant messaging applications are playing an increasingly important role in our day-to-day communications. However, these digital tools are not without security flaws, and so cannot guarantee the security of conversations and information shared via them.
“The integration of this solution constitutes not only a sign of awareness in matters of cybersecurity, but also a step towards greater French technological sovereignty.”
French politicians have long held concerns about over-reliance on American technology. The state funded an attempt to build a French search engine, Quaero, in the late 2000s and has pushed for domestic capabilities in semiconductors and artificial intelligence.
Olvid’s website claims it allows users to “free yourself from foreign solutions subject to extraterritorial laws”, such as America’s Cloud Act, which compels US tech companies to give up data stored on foreign servers.
It has been backed by several French investment programmes and was the first messaging app to receive approval from ANSSI, the French cybersecurity agency.
Developed by Paris-based cryptographers, Olvid claims to offer higher levels of security than rivals.
It encrypts metadata – information about users such as their name, profile picture and what chats they are in – compared to apps that merely encrypt the content of messages.
It also does not require a phone number or Sim card to set up an account, meaning that users are at less risk from people hijacking accounts.
Data is stored across the network of devices using it, rather than on central servers, making it more difficult for law enforcement or potential hackers to access.
Consumer messaging apps have become widely used in governments because they are seen as quicker and more private than emails.
While the contents of messaging apps like WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, meaning they can not be read by the company or anyone beyond the sender and recipient, the company does have access to other signals, such as which users are talking to each other.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook-parent company Meta, has also mulled putting advertising in the app. Olvid, by contrast, says it is funded by a subset of users who pay for the service.