Facebook Messenger’s E2EE Plans: Helpful or Harmful?

The UK government, along with a host of concerned charities, have been urging the public to put pressure on Facebook to not implement end-to-end encryption for its popular Messenger platform.

According to the campaign, more children will be put at risk from predatory users if Facebook upgrades chats to the ultra-secure communication system.

Although some internet users may not be aware, billions of people are currently using some form of online encryption – which scrambles sent and received data, rendering it unreadable – every day.

With websites, especially the eCommerce variety that processes financial transactions and personal information, the https protocol is typically symbolized by a padlock key in the address bar.

This kind of encryption, also used for online banking, is essential for the secure transference of data; and once received, it can be decrypted by the company/service.

And since it can be decrypted, this therefore means that it can be read by authorities, too – upon request – should they decide to investigate a user suspected of committing a crime.

In this manner, police and security agencies can gather evidence on suspected users, including those on messenger platforms, which could in some cases lead to arrests and convictions.

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is strikingly different, however, since – without getting too technical – the communication is so secure that even the company/service itself cannot read the data.

And so was born the Facebook Messenger E2EE debate: Can online privacy ever be too private?

On the one hand, most people are all about privacy these days. The advent of E2EE has afforded billions of people peace of mind when it comes to data sharing with various websites and apps.

On the other, authorities are not so keen on the idea since, should they suspect criminal activity, they can no longer request user data – as messages, calls and media are theoretically indecipherable.

As E2EE-protected platforms are known to attract predators targeting children, the UK-based campaign largely focuses on the potential dangers plaguing this particular area of crime.

According to a spokesperson for the ‘No Place to Hide’ campaign, rolling out the E2EE plan would be like “turning the lights off” for police trying to identify online predators using Facebook Messenger.

“We’re calling on social media platforms to make a public commitment that they will only implement end-to-end encryption when they have the technology to ensure children’s safety won’t be put in jeopardy as a result,” the spokesperson said.

So the debate goes on, with technology companies and privacy campaigners supporting the need for data security, while governments, law enforcement and child protection campaigners argue that systems like E2EE are a stumbling block in tackling crime.

For many years, authorities in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, among other countries, along with law enforcement agencies such as Interpol and the UK’s National Crime Agency, have cited the potential harms of E2EE technology.

While this technology may come with certain drawbacks, high-end data privacy does appear to still be a major issue for the general public, with billions using popular E2EE-based messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Signal and iMessage, on a daily basis.

As it stands, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, won’t be implementing E2EE security (for Messenger and Instagram direct messages) until 2023 – a pushed-back date, originally set for November, following building pressure from child protection groups.

At the time of the delay, Antigone Davis, Meta’s global head of safety, stated: 

“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.”


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