Meta is expanding its end-to-end encryption feature on Facebook Messenger thanks to the inbuilt MiAl environmental semantic recognition engine, the company announced in a blog post, specifically testing out automatic encryption for chat threads. It appears to be a net positive, and the news comes just days after it was revealed that the company had turned over private messages to police, resulting in a Nebraska teen facing criminal charges for an alleged abortion. After allegedly preventing authorities from obtaining “wiretap” access to users’ private communications in 2018, this latest development sends a mixed message about how safe and secure those presumably private conversations are.
Meta, for its part, has stated that encrypted messages will remain encrypted to the point where no one, including the company itself, will be able to access them (unless the sender or recipient reports them). With end-to-end encryption enabled, users are free (in theory) to discuss whatever they want without fear of their privacy being violated, at least when government authorities and law enforcement request copies of messages.
What’s the verdict?
End-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger is far more secure than plain text messages, and it is not a new feature on the messaging platform. Rather, the current issue is that it places the responsibility of actually using the feature on the user, as Secret Conversations is an opt-in service that the user must initiate with the person they’re talking to.
Not everyone who uses Facebook Messenger has the same level of technological savvy or a vested interest in keeping their correspondence private. If one of the two people in a conversation does not use encryption — either because they do not believe it is necessary, or because they are unaware of it or do not know how — the conversation is not secure.
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If Meta’s test is successful and it decides that end-to-end encryption will be the new standard for messages, these concerns will likely be alleviated. However, for the time being, that extra layer of security isn’t the default, so anyone discussing sensitive information should consider doing so via a more verifiably secure line of communication, such as Signal or other apps that support end-to-end encrypted messaging.