Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has started introducing strong privacy measures called end-to-end encryption on Messenger and Facebook, as announced on Thursday.
The Vice-President of Messenger, Loredana Crisan, revealed that this encryption is based on the Signal and Meta’s Labyrinth protocols. Implementing these new features took several years, involving a collaborative effort from Meta’s engineers, designers, cryptographers, and others who reconstructed the app entirely.
To comply with European Union (EU) data privacy regulations, Meta plans to offer Facebook and Instagram users in Europe the choice to pay for ad-free versions of these platforms.
Crisan emphasized Meta’s collaboration with external experts, academics, advocates, and governments to identify potential risks and develop measures to balance privacy and safety.
Messenger has allowed users to opt-in for encrypted messaging since 2016, a move initially mentioned by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2019. Originally planned for default implementation in 2022, the launch was postponed due to concerns that it might impede Meta’s ability to detect child abuse on its platform.
Under the recent changes, Meta will no longer be able to access the contents of user messages unless a user in a chat chooses to report a message to the company. While these features are immediately available, it will take some time for Messenger chats to transition to default end-to-end encryption.
The rollout process is expected to extend over months, impacting the platform’s more than 1 billion users. Users will be prompted to set up a recovery method to restore their messages once the transition is complete.
However, this move will likely draw concern from law enforcement and child protection groups, which have opposed companies implementing end-to-end encryption. In September, former UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman urged Meta to reconsider its plans, emphasizing the need for appropriate safeguards against malicious activities.
Notably, end-to-end encryption will not initially apply to Instagram, although the company has indicated that this change will be implemented shortly after completing the Messenger upgrade. WhatsApp conversations already benefit from encryption.
Alongside end-to-end encryption, other features introduced include the ability to edit a message within 15 minutes of sending, disappearing messages lasting 24 hours, control over whether a user can see when their message is read, and listening to voice messages at 1.5 or 2 times speed.