Messaging apps

Meta has announced a significant update to Messenger, aligning it more closely with its sibling app, WhatsApp. Now, the personal calls and chats of every Messenger user will be encrypted by default, offering a major privacy enhancement.

Previously, since 2016, Messenger users had the option to choose end-to-end encryption, providing a safeguard for their chats. However, this recent development makes encryption the default setting for everyone, in line with Mark Zuckerberg’s 2019 commitment to bring encryption technology to all private communications across Meta’s family of apps.

Loredana Crisan, the head of Messenger, highlighted the significance of this move in a blog post, emphasizing that with encryption in place, neither Meta nor anyone else can access the content unless a user chooses to report a message. The transition to default end-to-end encryption for all Messenger chats will take some time, as Meta relies on various cryptographic principles, including one developed in-house and another used by the popular Signal encrypted messaging app.

While WhatsApp has employed end-to-end encryption, privacy advocates often view Signal as a more secure communication service due to its limited data collection. Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, expressed his excitement about this milestone in a Facebook post, acknowledging the effort behind rebuilding Messenger and implementing default end-to-end encryption for personal calls and messages.

Zuckerberg’s vision for a more privacy-centric Facebook emerged in 2019, driven by changing consumer habits that seek private connections akin to the digital equivalent of a living room. This shift followed past data-privacy concerns, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Meta has since introduced various privacy-related updates, such as allowing some Instagram users to opt-in for encrypted direct messages in 2021.

In 2022, Meta tested the ability for Messenger users to back up their end-to-end encrypted conversations, though it was unrelated to the controversy surrounding Messenger chat histories provided to law enforcement. This recent encryption announcement is expected to contribute to the ongoing debate around privacy and law enforcement capabilities. It echoes the 2016 Apple-FBI dispute over encryption and aligns with WhatsApp and Signal’s stance against offering services in the UK if laws weakening encryption are enacted, citing concerns about the detection of online child abuse activities.

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