Meta’s long-running deployment of end-to-end encryption by default for all of its messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram Direct) is still moving ahead, despite opposition from some government officials and law enforcement groups.
Today, the Messenger team has provided an update on its progress in rolling out default E2E in its app, which it says is on track to be enacted for all one-to-one friends and family chats by the end of the year.
As per Messenger:
“As we continue to increase the scale of our tests, and prepare to roll out the upgraded service, people will need to update their app to a recent build to access default E2EE. This is why it will take longer than we first anticipated to transition all messages to E2EE. However, as people update their app to the latest version of Messenger, we will be able to upgrade those conversations with the additional privacy and security of E2EE.”
Meta initially announced its plan to roll out full encryption within its messaging tools back in 2019, and has been working ever since to upgrade its back-end processes to enable the higher level of message security in its apps.
Meta also delayed the full expansion of encrypted messages back in 2021 due to concerns around the potential for encryption to hide criminal activity in its apps.
Last September, then UK Home Affairs Secretary Priti Patel called on Meta to reconsider its plans for expanded messaging encryption, as it could impede the ability of police to investigate and prevent child abuse, specifically. Patel labeled the shift to full encryption as ‘catastrophic’.
Meta’s own stats on the detection and removal of child abuse material reinforce such concerns. Throughout 2021, Meta detected and reported 22 million pieces of child abuse imagery to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). In 2020, NCMEC also reported that Facebook was responsible for 94% of the 69 million child sex abuse images reported by U.S. technology companies.
Given the scale, it makes sense that law enforcement groups are concerned about the potential for full encryption, which can’t be broken by Meta or anyone else, to hide this activity. Yet, despite this, Meta has continued to move ahead with the plan, which is now nearing the next significant stage.
Meta expanded its encryption test within Messenger earlier this year, with this new roll out set to see more users prompted about the switchover to E2E.
The expansion will provide more peace of mind for users, but again, concerns remain about the potential for encryption to hide certain activities within the world’s most popular messaging apps.
Though the alternative would be accepting that other people may be able to read your messages.
In this sense, Meta’s leaning into majority rule, with most users not engaging in criminal activity in the app.
Whether that’s the right move or not is largely a matter of personal perspective. But one way or another, it does seem that Meta will be moving ahead, with added security coming to all your chats as a result.