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Facebook Messenger, Instagram to only get end-to-end encryption by 2023: Here’s why

  • Facebook Messenger and Instagram will only get end-to-end encryption by default in 2023, according to the company. This is a delay on the original timeline of 2022

By Indian Express Tech Desk, November 22, 2021

Facebook Messenger and Instagram will only get end-to-end encryption by default in 2023, according to Antigone Davis, Meta’s (formerly Facebook) head of safety.

The earlier timeline for this was 2022 which the company had announced in a blog post back in April this year. WhatsApp, which is also owned by Meta, already has end-to-end encryption by default.

“We’re taking our time to get this right and we don’t plan to finish the global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default across all our messaging services until sometime in 2023,” Davis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. She added that the company was determined “to protect people’s private communications and keep people safe online.”

The decision to delay the move is because the company wants to ensure that end-to-end encryption does not hamper efforts to stop criminal activity. She also wrote that Meta will “use a combination of non-encrypted data across our apps, account information and reports from users” to help keep users safe and assist authorities.

“Our recent review of some historic cases showed that we would still have been able to provide critical information to the authorities, even if those services had been end-to-end encrypted,” she wrote in the article.

It should be noted that Facebook Messenger has end-to-end encrypted voice and video calls. There’s also an end-to-end encrypted chat option in Messenger, though it has to be enabled as a ‘Secret Chat’ the individual contact.

Meta and end-to-end encryption

The decision to go with end-to-end encryption across its messaging apps was actually announced back in 2019 when the then Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had talked about his “future is private” vision at the company’s annual F8 Developer Conference.

Zuckerberg had said that the company’s core products such as Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram would become a more private network, rather than the existing digital equivalent of a town square, and “private communications, end-to-end encryption” would be crucial to achieving this vision. Other principles that Zuckerberg had stressed at the time were “reducing permanence, safety, interoperability among all Facebook’s apps, and secure data storage.” But he did not give a timeline for when this end-to-end encryption would roll out at the time. 

Earlier in March 2019, Zuckerberg had also written a long letter talking about how “privacy-focused” communications platforms will be important, and that users are more cautious of leaving a permanent record of what they had said.

He had also talked about interoperability stating that in the future, they could let a WhatsApp user message someone on Instagram even without requiring an Instagram account. He also stressed that interoperability would not compromise encryption.

“With the ability to message across our services, however, you’d be able to send an encrypted message to someone’s phone number in WhatsApp from Messenger,” he had written at the time.

Then in April this year, the company they were expected to make more progress on default end-to-end encryption for Messenger and Instagram Direct, but that the platforms would not be “fully end-to-end encrypted until sometime in 2022 at the earliest.”

Why is end-to-end encryption an issue?

End-to-end encryption means no one can read or access the messages other than the two participants involved. When this is turned on by default, even Facebook or Meta or Instagram will not be able to read the message. This is great for user privacy but not so much for law enforcement or authorities, especially if the apps are used for any illegal activities. Governments argue this essentially gives criminals a freeway, but Meta says they can continue to keep users safe while keeping their conversations private.

In India, WhatsApp has already filed a case challenging the traceability clause in the new IT rules as unconstitutional. The IT rules require that social media intermediaries trace the originator of a message in some cases as required by authorities. WhatsApp says this goes against the Supreme Court’s judgment in the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy vs Union Of India case.

“Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy,” a WhatsApp spokesperson had said at the time.

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