What Next: TBD

How WhatsApp Got Hacked

Private spyware companies help governments get around encryption, and business is booming.

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About the Show

Every Friday, Slate’s popular daily news podcast What Next brings you TBD, a clear-eyed look into the future. From fake news to fake meat, algorithms to augmented reality, Lizzie O’Leary is your guide to the tech industry and the world it’s creating for us to live in.

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  • Lizzie O’Leary is the host of What Next: TBD, Slate’s show about technology, power, and the future. Previously, she created and hosted Marketplace Weekend. She has reported for CNN, Bloomberg News, and the New York Times Magazine, among others. She is also a contributing writer at the Atlantic.

Episode Notes

Recently, Facebook filed a lawsuit against a little-known Israeli spyware firm called NSO Group. Facebook is accusing NSO of supplying technology that enabled a hack of 1,400 WhatsApp accounts.

But NSO’s reach goes far beyond a few thousand phones. Governments around the world purchase its powerful technology. Some use it to “lawfully hack” the devices of criminals and terrorists. But others use it more broadly, tracking the communications of activists, journalists, lawyers, and dissidents.

What does the WhatsApp lawsuit mean for the spyware industry? And why are governments lining up to buy these products?

Update, Nov. 21, 2019: In response to Facebook’s lawsuit, NSO issued the following statement: “In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them. The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years.”