JAKARTA - Facebook has shared an update on its long-awaited plan to enable end-to-end encryption by default on its Messenger chat platform. The US company also said it had started testing the feature for a chat "between multiple people" this week.
Facebook currently offers Messenger users the option to enable E2EE on a per-chat basis, but such opt-in schemes are generally only embraced by a security-conscious minority.
Making end-to-end encryption the default would be a huge step, as it adds a substantial layer of security to the chat platform used by more than a billion people worldwide.
It is also likely to spark arguments with governments that say E2EE hinders their ability to fight crime.
End-to-end encryption also means that Facebook cannot see the content of its users' messages because only chat participants can see it. This makes it more difficult, though not impossible, for third parties such as hackers or law enforcement to snoop on netizens' digital conversations.
In recent years, Facebook parent Meta Platform Inc has been slowly adding more layers of encryption to its various chat platforms, but these efforts have not been put together.
Chats on WhatsApp are also encrypted by default using the same protocol offered by the industry standard secure messenger Signal; opt-in encryption for Instagram DMs is also currently being tested; and Messenger offers E2EE through a "missing message" feature. The app previously also offered a similar "vanish mode", but this is currently being removed, as per today's Facebook update.
Facebook itself has been criticized for not making E2EE the default in Messenger, especially after the Roe v. reversal. Wade in the United States, where digital traces such as app chats will be used as evidence in prosecuting newly criminalized abortions.
This was highlighted in a case this week, where Facebook complied with a police search warrant to turn over Messenger chat history of a Nebraskan teenager and his mother, leading to the prosecution of the couple on charges related to the state's pre-existing abortion laws.
Facebook previously said it was slow to make E2EE the default across all of its chat platforms because of the difficulty of integrating the technology into apps used by billions of people and the need to balance user privacy with security.
In its update today, Facebook reiterated that it is on track to make E2EE the default for all chats and calls on Messenger "by 2023."
In addition to the new test E2EE defaults, the company also announced a feature called "secure storage" that will encrypt cloud backups of users' chat history in Messenger.
"[We're] testing secure storage to back up those messages in case you lose your phone or want to restore your message history on a new supported device," the company said, as quoted by The Verge. "As with end-to-end encrypted chats, secure storage means we won't have access to your messages unless you choose to report them to us."
Other new features being tested in Messenger include syncing deleted messages across devices; test the ability to unsend messages; and added encryption to hands-free messages sent on Messenger using the company's Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses.
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