Facebook testing default end-to-end encryption on Messenger, may face heat from govts

At present, the social media giant offers users the option to turn on E2EE on Messenger on a per-chat basis.

Facebook testing default end-to-end encryption on Messenger, may face heat from govts
The company also announced a “secure storage” feature to encrypt cloud backups of users’ chat history on Messenger. (Reuters)

Facebook has begun testing a default end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for Messenger and the company plans to turn on the feature for chats “between some people” this week.

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At present, the social media giant offers users the option to turn on E2EE on Messenger on a per-chat basis, but such an opt-in scheme is usually embraced only by a security-conscious minority. Making E2EE a default setting will add a substantial security layer to a chat platform used by over a billion people across the globe. The feature is also likely to trigger arguments with governments.

E2EE means Facebook would not be able to view the content of user messages. This makes it much harder for third parties such as law enforcement agencies or hackers to snoop on digital conversations.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms, in recent years, has been adding more encryption layers to its various chat platforms, but has yet to unify these efforts. Chats on WhatsApp, another messaging platform owned by the company, are encrypted by default using the same protocol offered by Signal, the industry standard secure messenger. Meta is also testing an opt-in encryption for direct messages on Instagram, while Messenger offers the E2EE feature via the “disappearing messages” feature.

The social media platform has faced severe criticism for not making E2EE a default feature on Messenger. Facebook had previously said it was slow to make the feature a default option on all its chat platforms due to the difficulty of integrating such technology into apps used by billions and the need for balance between safety and user privacy. In its latest update, the company said it was on track to make E2EE a default for all Messenger chats and calls “in 2023”.

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In addition, the company also announced a “secure storage” feature to encrypt cloud backups of users’ chat history on Messenger.

Other new features being tested include syncing deleted messages across all devices, the ability to unsend messages, and encrypting hands-free messages on Messenger using the Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses.

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