France's government ministers to ditch using WhatsApp for French app Olvid over security fears

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne Copyright Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo
By Euronews with AFP
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The French government is switching out common instant messaging apps with French alternatives in order to tighen up security.

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French ministers are being advised to stop using WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal in favour of French messaging applications.

Olvid is an encrypted instant messaging app developed by French cybersecurity experts, with both messages and metadata encrypted.

The prime minister's office said in a document reported by the French newspaper Le Point that all members of the government and ministries should install the French app on their phones and computers "to replace other instant messaging in order to reinforce [communication] security".

Tchap, a messaging system reserved for public servants, was also mentioned in the government document.

French prime minister Elisabeth Borne asked that government workers "take all measures" to deploy Olvid by December 8.

France's junior minister in charge of digital, Jean-Noel Barrot, wrote in a social media post that the messaging app had been used by his team since July 2022.

"In December, the entire government will use Olvid, the most secure instant messaging service in the world."

Why switch to Olvid?

Available for free on Android, iOS and computers, the application does not require a phone number to register but is relatively unknown to the general public.

Paid options are also available to make audio calls, use multiple devices, or facilitate business use.

Baptiste Robert, a cybersecurity researcher, said this plan "goes in the right direction," adding that professional conversations have no place on WhatsApp and Telegram.

It has, in particular, a robust certification from France's National Information Systems Security Agency (Anssi) but likely won't go viral like WhatsApp, Robert said.

In response to the move, Meredith Whittaker, the president of Signal, hit back at the French government's decision in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday.

"The French PM is mandating ministers use a small French messaging app. OK. But I’m alarmed that she’s claiming 'security flaws' in Signal (et al) to justify the move," she posted.

"This claim is not backed by any evidence, and is dangerously misleading esp. coming from gov," she added.

The French government already tried to curb the use of foreign and potentially insecure applications by civil servants in March. 

Like other Western countries, the Chinese social network TikTok was banned on civil servant work phones.

But security experts say the limited use of Olvid makes it difficult to prove its reliability at a larger scale.

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