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The Facebook-owned messaging service announced the move amid fierce debate surrounding privacy versus security.
It follows Apple’s battle with the US government over FBI demands for data on an iPhone – used by a gunman in California – to be unlocked.
End-to-end encryption automatically encodes each message with an algorithm that can only be unlocked by the sender and recipient.
WhatsApp said: “The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to.