In a significant move to bolster user privacy, Meta has announced that encrypted chats, a feature first introduced as optional in Messenger in 2016, will now become the standard for all users. The encryption ensures that only the sender and recipient can decipher messages, with Meta having no access to the content. Loredana Crisan, the head of Messenger, emphasized the meticulous effort invested in perfecting this feature, involving engineers, cryptographers, designers, policy experts, and product managers who rebuilt Messenger features from the ground up.
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, had committed to implementing end-to-end encryption across its platforms in 2019, following a series of high-profile scandals. These included the Cambridge Analytica incident, where user data on Facebook was accessed without consent. The move toward enhanced privacy gained urgency when Nebraska investigators, examining an abortion case violating a state ban, reviewed private Facebook messages, sparking renewed concern among privacy advocates.
While Meta’s WhatsApp platform already encrypts messages, extending this security measure to Messenger is positioned as a safeguard against hackers, fraudsters, and criminals. However, critics of encryption, law enforcement agencies, and a Meta report from 2022 have highlighted potential risks. These concerns include the misuse of enhanced encryption to exploit children sexually, facilitate human trafficking, and spread hate speech.
Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation, raised poignant questions about Meta’s stance, particularly in addressing the potential harm caused by the misuse of privacy features. She questioned how Meta’s leadership would justify not preserving the privacy of children who have suffered sexual abuse, emphasizing the importance of Meta’s role in detecting and preventing the spread of illegal and harmful content on its platforms.
While the new encrypted features are immediately available, Crisan acknowledged that it would take some time for the privacy feature to be fully rolled out to all Messenger users. The company aims to balance enhanced security with the responsibility to prevent the misuse of privacy features, considering the potential societal risks associated with encrypted communication.