After United Nations officials aired allegations that Jeff Bezos’s phone had likely been hacked in the course of his WhatsApp communications with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the logical next question was whether other rich-and-famous pen pals had been maliciously spammed too.
An aide to Jared Kushner did not respond to my queries about whether Donald Trump’s son-in-law was worried about his own devices being compromised as a result of his reported WhatsApp correspondence with the Saudi leader. A spokesperson for Virgin confirmed that its billionaire founder, Richard Branson, had communicated with the crown prince (known as MbS) by phone, but told me the company had nothing more to add. Twitter, whose CEO, Jack Dorsey, has met with MbS, declined to comment.
But focusing on the specific individuals who may or may not have come into the crown prince’s crosshairs risks missing the larger lesson of this episode: that these people could conceivably come into his crosshairs at all.
In this dystopian digital age in which we’re desperately trying to salvage some semblance of privacy, we have become accustomed to raised alarms about companies mining people’s data and about governments waging elaborate cyberattacks against their adversaries. But this is different terrain: a powerful state actor allegedly infecting a powerful non-state actor as their personal relationship soured. It’s the specter of cyberwarfare at its most atomized and human, the end of our collective innocence about adding a “new contact.”