Messenger, Meta’s popular instant messaging platform, is getting a major security enhancement. The company announced that it will roll out default end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for all Messenger chats by the end of 2023. This means that users will be able to communicate privately and securely with their friends and family, without worrying about third parties accessing their messages or calls.
The Dawn of Default End-to-End Encryption on Messenger
Ensuring Privacy for Personal Messages and Calls
End-to-end encryption is a technology that protects the content of messages and calls from being intercepted or tampered with by anyone other than the intended recipients. It ensures that only the sender and the receiver can read or listen to the communication, and not even Meta or any government agency can access it.
Meta has been offering end-to-end encryption as an opt-in feature for Messenger since 2016, under the name of Secret Conversations. However, only a small percentage of users have enabled this feature, and it does not support group chats, voice and video calls, or some other functionalities.
Meta’s plan is to make end-to-end encryption the default setting for all Messenger chats, regardless of whether they are one-on-one or group conversations, or whether they involve text, voice, or video. This will give users more control over their privacy and security, and allow them to enjoy the full range of features that Messenger offers.
Meta’s Commitment to User Security
Meta’s decision to implement default end-to-end encryption for Messenger is part of its broader vision to create a more private and secure online space for its users. The company has stated that it believes that “people should be able to communicate securely and privately with the people they want across our apps”.
Meta has also been working on integrating its messaging platforms, namely Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram Direct, to enable cross-app communication and interoperability. WhatsApp already offers end-to-end encryption by default for all its chats and calls, and Meta plans to extend this feature to Instagram Direct as well. By doing so, Meta aims to create a seamless and encrypted messaging experience for its users across its apps.
The Significance of End-to-End Encryption
What Is End-to-End Encryption?
End-to-end encryption is a cryptographic technique that scrambles the data of messages and calls using a secret key that is shared only between the sender and the receiver. This key is generated on the devices of the users and is never stored or transmitted by Meta or any other service provider. This means that no one, not even Meta, can decrypt the data without the key, and therefore cannot access the content of the communication.
End-to-end encryption is different from other forms of encryption, such as transport layer security (TLS) or HTTPS, which only protects the data while it is in transit between the devices and the servers. These forms of encryption do not prevent Meta or other service providers from accessing the data while it is stored on their servers, and they may comply with legal requests or demands from governments or other entities to hand over the data.
The Advantages for Messenger Users
End-to-end encryption offers several benefits for Messenger users, such as:
- Privacy: Users can communicate with confidence that their messages and calls are only visible to the people they choose, and not to anyone else, including Meta, hackers, advertisers, or governments. Users can also delete their messages from both their own and the recipient’s devices, leaving no trace of the communication.
- Security: Users can protect their messages and calls from being intercepted or modified by malicious actors, such as cybercriminals, spies, or terrorists. Users can also verify the identity of their contacts using safety notices and device keys, and report any suspicious activity or abuse.
- Freedom: Users can express themselves freely and openly, without fear of censorship, surveillance, or retaliation. Users can also access information and opinions that may be restricted or blocked by authoritarian regimes or other oppressive forces.
How End-to-End Encryption Transforms Messenger?
Meta’s Steps Toward Encryption
Meta has been gradually introducing and expanding end-to-end encryption features for Messenger over the years. Some of the milestones are:
- 2016: Meta launches Secret Conversations, an opt-in feature that allows users to send end-to-end encrypted text messages, photos, videos, and stickers to one contact at a time. Users can also set timers for their messages to disappear after a certain period of time.
- 2020: Meta starts testing end-to-end encryption for voice and video calls in Secret Conversations, as well as for group chats with up to five participants. Users can also send animated GIFs, voice clips, and files in encrypted chats.
- 2021: Meta announces updates to its end-to-end encryption testing for Messenger, including new chat themes, read receipts, and delivery confirmations. Users can also access their encrypted chats across multiple devices, such as phones, tablets, and computers.
- 2022: Meta begins rolling out end-to-end encryption for voice and video calls to all Messenger users, as well as for Instagram Direct users who have linked their accounts with Messenger. Users can also send reactions and reply to specific messages in encrypted chats.
- 2023: Meta plans to enable end-to-end encryption by default for all Messenger chats, including group chats, by the end of the year. Users will also be able to use more features, such as polls, live location, and payments, in encrypted chats.
Impact on User Privacy and Data Security
Meta’s move to implement default end-to-end encryption for Messenger will have a significant impact on the privacy and security of its users, as well as on the broader online ecosystem. Some of the implications are:
- More protection for user data: By encrypting the content of all messages and calls, Meta will reduce the amount of user data that it collects and stores on its servers. This will limit the potential for data breaches, leaks, or misuse by Meta or other parties. It will also make it harder for Meta to target ads or content based on user data, which may affect its revenue model.
- More resistance to government requests: By encrypting the content of all messages and calls, Meta will also reduce its ability to comply with legal requests or demands from governments or other authorities to access user data. This will increase the resistance of Meta and its users to censorship, surveillance, or interference by governments, especially those that are oppressive or authoritarian.
- More responsibility for user safety: By encrypting the content of all messages and calls, Meta will also reduce its ability to monitor and moderate user behavior and content. This will increase the responsibility of Meta and its users to ensure the safety and integrity of the platform and to prevent or report any harmful or illegal activities, such as harassment, abuse, or terrorism.
User Experience with the New Encryption Update
How to Enable End-to-End Encryption?
Meta has stated that it will make end-to-end encryption the default setting for all Messenger chats by the end of 2023. This means that users will not have to do anything to enable this feature, and they will be able to enjoy the benefits of encryption automatically.
However, users who want to try end-to-end encryption before the official rollout can opt into the feature by following these steps:
- Open Messenger and tap on the compose icon in the top right corner.
- Tap on the lock icon next to the name of the contact you want to chat with.
- Tap on the switch next to Secret Conversation to turn it on.
- Tap on OK to confirm.
You can also start a secret conversation from an existing chat by tapping on the contact’s name and then tapping on Go to Secret Conversation.
Reporting Encrypted Messages
Meta has also stated that it will provide users with tools to report encrypted messages that violate its Community Standards or Terms of Service. Users can report encrypted messages by following these steps:
- Open the secret conversation that you want to report.
- Tap on the contact’s name and then tap on Something’s Wrong.
- Select the reason for your report and then tap on Submit Report.
Meta will review your report and take appropriate action, such as removing the message, blocking the contact, or suspending the account. Meta will also notify you of the outcome of your report.