Meta Finally Adds Default End-to-End Encryption to Facebook Messenger

Meta Finally Adds Default End-to-End Encryption to Facebook Messenger – After over four years, Meta is set to introduce end-to-end encryption to the Facebook Messenger app, preventing law enforcement from obtaining Messenger chats via a subpoena. Encrypted copies of users’ chats will be stored by Meta, with the company not retaining the encryption keys.

“After years of work rebuilding Messenger, we’ve updated the app with default end-to-end encryption for all personal calls and messages,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. End-to-end encryption ensures that Meta cannot access chats sent through the Messenger app. Only the user’s devices, holding the encryption keys, have the ability to decrypt personal calls and messages within the app. 

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This mirrors the default end-to-end encryption of all messages in Meta-owned WhatsApp. This implies that even with a subpoena, law enforcement cannot acquire Messenger chats. While Meta stores encrypted copies of users’ chats, the company does not retain the encryption keys. In 2019, the Trump administration and US allies urged Zuckerberg to halt the encryption effort, expressing concerns that it could impede law enforcement in tracking down criminals.

In response to the news, the UK’s National Crime Agency is criticizing Meta, claiming the encryption will stymie law enforcement efforts to stop child predators online. “They (Meta) have an important responsibility to keep children safe on their platform and sadly, this will no longer be possible,” James Babbage, a director at the crime agency said. “Today our role in protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation just got harder.”

The option for end-to-end encryption in Messenger has been accessible since 2016 through an opt-in feature called Secret Conversation. Testing for default end-to-end encryption began last year. But to make encryption the default setting, Meta had to “rebuild Messenger features from the ground up,” it said in a blog post. Still, the end-to-end encryption won’t arrive immediately for most users. “It will take a number of months to complete the global rollout,” the company said. 

“When your chats are upgraded, you will be prompted to set up a recovery method, such as a PIN, so you can restore your messages if you lose, change, or add a device.” The company adds that it also built the encryption by consulting with “outside experts, academics and advocates and governments to identify risks and build mitigations to ensure that privacy and safety go hand-in-hand.”

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However, a crucial consideration is the level of privacy in Meta’s implementation of end-to-end encryption. In a distinct blog post, the company acknowledged certain “tradeoffs” in the system. As outlined in a Help Center article, this involves storing users’ encrypted messages in their browser when accessing Messenger via the web. To ensure transparency, Meta has released two technical papers detailing the design of the end-to-end encryption.

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