Meta Launching Default End-to-End Encryption on Messenger

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Facebook parent company Meta will soon be launching default end-to-end encryption for every Messenger user, the company announced on Dec. 6, marking a win for privacy advocates.

The default encryption for all personal chats and calls on Messenger and Facebook will make them “even more private and secure,” Loredana Crisan, the head of Messenger, wrote in a blog post announcing the update.

While Messenger users have had the option to manually turn on end-to-end encryption since 2016, the latest update means it will happen automatically to personal one-on-one chats and phone calls, similar to the default standard used on Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

The new features will be available immediately to the more than 1 billion users of the platform, although Meta noted it could take some time for Messenger chats to be updated with default end-to-end encryption.

“We take our responsibility to protect your messages seriously and we’re thrilled that after years of investment and testing, we’re able to launch a safer, more secure and private service,” Ms. Crisan wrote.

Meta said the new update has taken “years to deliver” because the social media giant took its time to “get this right.”

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“Our engineers, cryptographers, designers, policy experts, and product managers have worked tirelessly to rebuild Messenger features from the ground up. We’ve introduced new privacy, safety, and control features along the way like delivery controls that let people choose who can message them, as well as app lock, alongside existing safety features like report, block, and message requests,” Ms. Crisan wrote.

Meta Cannot See Encrypted Messages

“We worked closely with outside experts, academics, advocates, and governments to identify risks and build mitigations to ensure that privacy and safety go hand-in-hand,” she added.

The extra layer of security provided by end-to-end encryption means that only the Messenger user and the individual to whom they sent the message can see its content, according to Meta.

“The content of your messages and calls with friends and family are protected from the moment they leave your device to the moment they reach the receiver’s device,” the blog post stated. “This means that nobody, including Meta, can see what’s sent or said unless you choose to report a message to us.”

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Meta said it is also rolling out a string of other new features that will grant users “further control” of their messaging experience.

The new features include an “edit” button, allowing users to change messages that may have been fired off too soon for up to 15 minutes after sending them.

Disappearing messages on Messenger will now last for 24 hours after being sent and users will also be able to decide if they want others to see when they have read messages by controlling read receipts.

Concerns Over Child Abuse

The latest update comes after Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a 2019 blog post that the social networking giant was planning to roll out encryption technology to all private communications across its messaging apps amid growing demand for private interactions.

“I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever,” he wrote at the time.

“This is the future I hope we will help bring about,” Mr. Zuckerberg added.

However, a planned rollout of the encryption feature initially intended to take place in 2022 was delayed due to concerns among law enforcement officials and child protection groups that doing so would leave Meta unable to detect and combat child abuse on its platform.

Suella Braverman, former home secretary of the United Kingdom, had in September called on Meta not to go ahead with the planned encryption rollout.

A spokesperson for Meta told Axios, “We don’t think people want us reading their private messages so have developed robust safety measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online security.”
The spokesperson pointed to a recently published report by Meta detailing those safety measures, which include restricting users who are older than 19 from messaging teens who don’t follow them and using technology to identify and take action against malicious behavior.

“As we roll out end-to-end encryption, we expect to continue providing more reports to law enforcement than our peers due to our industry-leading work on keeping people safe,” the spokesperson added.

In a separate post on Wednesday following the latest announcement, Mr. Zuckerberg congratulated his team at Meta for “making this happen” after “years of work rebuilding Messenger.”

The new automatic encryption feature will also extend to Instagram at an undetermined date, Axios reports.

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