Updated Dec 7, 2023 - Technology

Facebook Messenger to become fully encrypted

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduces a new messenger platform at the F8 summit in San Francisco, California, on March 25, 2015.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook is rolling out default end-to-end encryption for personal messages and calls across the platform and on Messenger, the company announced Wednesday night.

Why it matters: The full encryption service that will extend to Instagram at a date to be determined is a win for privacy advocates who've urged tech companies to adopt the practice to protect consumers, but Meta has previously faced pushback from law enforcement and other agencies over the move.

The big picture: Facebook has for years promised the feature, and Messenger has since 2016 had the option for people to turn on end-to-end encryption (E2EE).

  • Now the platform is "changing private chats and calls across Messenger to be end-to-end encrypted by default," per a blog post from Messenger head Loredana Crisan Wednesday night.
  • "We worked closely with outside experts, academics, advocates and governments to identify risks and build mitigations to ensure that privacy and safety go hand-in-hand."

Separately, Meta is removing cross-app communication from mid-December. So Instagram users will no longer be able to chat to Facebook accounts, and vice-versa.

Of note: In 2019, officials from the U.S., U.K. and Australia sent Facebook a letter after the platform announced a pivot to encrypted messaging, asking it to halt its implementation due to law enforcement concerns about child exploitation and other crimes.

  • This year, lawmakers in places including the U.S., EU and U.K. have been considering child-safety bills that include provisions for authorities to scan encrypted messages, per Axios' Sam Sabin.

What they're saying: When asked how the company would address such concerns, a Meta spokesperson told Axios Wednesday night that encryption "helps keep people safe" from hackers, fraudsters and criminals.

  • "We don't think people want us reading their private messages so have developed robust safety measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online security," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
"Our recently published report detailed these measures, such as restricting over-19s from messaging teens who don't follow them and using technology to identify and take action against malicious behavior. As we roll out end-to-end encryption, we expect to continue providing more reports to law enforcement than our peers due to our industry leading work on keeping people safe."
— Meta spokesperson

What's next: Meta software engineers Jon Millican and Reed Riley said in a Wednesday blog post that they're "still in the testing phase for group messaging and some other products," like Instagram Direct Messages.

  • "On Instagram, we are currently testing 'disappearing messages' for one-to-one Instagram Direct conversations in select countries," they wrote.
  • These are "built leveraging our E2EE infrastructure and provide an increased level of privacy" and they plan to expand their work on this and "conduct additional testing" around full encryption on Instagram over the next year, the engineers added.
  • The Meta spokesperson said "we don't have a timeline to share for when we will start encrypting messages" on Instagram.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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