Facebook, which is now known as Meta (Facebook’s parent company), has delayed its plans for end-to-end encryption on its Facebook Messenger and Instagram applications.
Messenger currently does offer end-to-end encryption for both calls and messages, but it is currently opt-in only. WhatsApp (which is also owned by Meta) does offer end-to-end encryption by default, which is what the company is working towards for Messenger and Instagram.
In August (2021), Facebook began rolling out and testing more end-to-end encryption features on Messenger and Instagram. The rollout began with offering end-to-end encryption for voice and video calls. Opt-in end-to-end encryption for one-on-one chats has been on offer since 2016.
The company initially planned to have full end-to-end encryption for the two apps in 2022, but now the rollout has been delayed to sometime in 2023, one year later than planned.
While speaking to the Telegraph, Antigone David, the head of Meta’s global safety said:
“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.”
It would appear the reasoning behind the delay to due to criticism over end-to-end encryption and how it could make it more difficult to combat online abuse. Some governments, such as the UK government and the Home Secretary Priti Patel, have been vocally against end-to-end encryption, mainly claiming that end-to-end encryption will make efforts by law enforcement to prevent child sexual abuse material more difficult.
Facebook does say it is possible to report end-to-end encrypted messages. The process involves a user reporting a recently received message and by doing so the message will get decrypted and sent to Facebook for review. Once end-to-end encryption is fully implemented and enabled by default, in theory, law enforcement would only be able to investigate and potentially be able to act on messages which are reported by a user, otherwise, the message will remain encrypted.
Although Messenger and Instagram still lack end-to-end encryption, there are still many other popular platforms that already support it (some by default) such as iMessage from Apple, Telegram, Signal and of course WhatsApp from Meta.
Meta has also been releasing other privacy-focused features alongside end-to-end encryption such as ‘Disappearing Messages’ which allows users to set a timer for when a message within a chat will disappear. The timer option ranges from 5 seconds all the way up to 24 hours.
Despite the delay, it would appear Meta remains committed to end-to-end encryption and furthering its privacy offering. In the past Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, said:
“I believe we should be working towards a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won’t all stick around forever. If we can help move the world in this direction, I will be proud of the difference we’ve made.”