Meta Delays Encryption On Facebook, Instagram Until 2023

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Meta executive tells newspaper that encryption rollout has been delayed on Facebook and Instagram over child safety concerns

End-to-end encryption will not be deployed on Facebook and Instagram for another two years, according to a senior Meta executive.

Antigone Davis, the head of safety at Meta, confirmed the delay in an article for the Sunday Telegraph, and it comes amid warnings from campaigners and government officials that encryption would help child abusers and hinder law enforcement.

Meta had been due to rollout end-to-end encryption in 2022 at the earliest, and it should be remembered that WhatsApp users by default already enjoy the protection that end-to-encryption offers.

Facebook becomes Meta

Encryption challenge

In August however, concern was raised among privacy campaigners after it was reported that Meta was seeking to develop a method of mining useful advertising data from encrypted WhatsApp messages.

According to a media report, Meta was recruiting artificial intelligence researchers (including a key hire from Microsoft) in order to learn how to analyse the content of encrypted messages without having to decrypt them.

The move was puzzling for some, as for years now Meta has defended its default use of end-to-end encryption for people’s messages in WhatsApp.

Indeed, in October 2019 CEO Mark Zuckerberg completely backed his decision to encrypt the company’s messaging services.

This defence came after an open letter protesting the move was signed by the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, US Attorney General Bill Barr, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton.

Law enforcement, campaigners and governments have long railed against technology companies permitting the encryption of potentially valuable data belonging to criminals and/or terrorists.

Child safety?

On the one side, child safety campaigner in particular have stressed that end-to-end encryption is threatening children’s safety online.

The central thrust of their argument, is that plans by social media firms to increase the use of encrypted messages, would make it impossible for platforms to monitor content (which is kinda of the whole point about encryption).

Critics of the campaign to ban end-to-end encryption point out that their arguments are misguided, as it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Indeed, privacy campaigners would point out that instead of targeting end-to-end encryption, more focus should be on clamping down so that children are not bypassing age restrictions on messaging apps, and thus putting themselves in danger in the first place.

Delayed until 2023

Meta is in the difficult position of trying to satisfy both parties.

“We’ll continue engaging with outside experts and developing effective solutions to combat abuse because our work in this area is never done,” wrote Antigone Davis in the Sunday Telegraph.

“We’re taking our time to get this right and we don’t plan to finish the global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default across all our messaging services until sometime in 2023.”

“As a company that connects billions of people around the world and has built industry-leading technology, we’re determined to protect people’s private communications and keep people safe online,” Davis concluded.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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