Thursday, May 23, 2024

Meta announced its plans on Wednesday to transform Messenger, its global chat and voice messaging app, into a fully encrypted service. This move is expected to spark a discussion about privacy and security in communication.

The company, which also owns Facebook and Instagram, stated that the change is part of a larger plan to make Messenger more similar to other messaging apps, such as Apple’s iMessage and Meta’s other messaging service, WhatsApp.

End-to-end encryption ensures that texts, photos, videos, and phone calls are kept private so that third parties cannot access the content. This technology scrambles messages in a way that only the sender and intended recipient can decipher them.

Loredana Crisan, a vice president of Messenger, explained in a post that “The extra layer of security provided by end-to-end encryption means that the content of your messages and calls with friends and family are protected from the moment they leave your device to the moment they reach the receiver’s device. This means that nobody, including Meta, can see what’s sent or said, unless you choose to report a message to us.”

Law enforcement authorities and technologists have long debated encryption controls. Privacy advocates and tech executives believe people should have online communications free of snooping, while law enforcement and other authorities argue that tough encryption makes it impossible to track criminals.

Meta’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has been a vocal privacy champion. In 2019, he announced a plan to encrypt all of his company’s messaging apps. However, the company’s messaging services have faced scrutiny in Europe and lawmakers have criticized Meta for not allowing its messaging services to easily work with other services.

Meta has also come under fire for reducing the number of trust and safety employees who work on issues such as reducing misinformation and catching criminals.

The rise of end-to-end encryption gained traction in 2013 after data leaked by Edward J. Snowden appeared to show the extent to which intelligence and law enforcement agencies were gaining access to users’ communications through major tech companies without their knowledge.

Encrypted messaging apps like Signal gained popularity, and tech giants such as Apple started using end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp introduced full encryption to its service in 2016, making it more widely available.

In the United States, regulators have expressed concerns that the broadening use of encryption in messaging apps has facilitated criminal behavior and child predation by keeping messages out of the reach of law enforcement.

Meta’s decision to encrypt its messaging services has also been criticized by law enforcement agencies for potentially undermining safety systems and weakening the ability to keep child users safe.

In addition to end-to-end encryption, Messenger plans to introduce new features, including a notification for read messages, the ability to send voice memos, time-limited messages, and message editing. Messenger users send more than 1.3 billion photos and videos through the app daily.

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