For a really long time now, Meta, formerly Facebook has been urged to encrypt its messaging service but the attempt to do so has been shifted to the year 2023.
Just like WhatsApp, the end-to-end process means that only the sender or the receiver can read messages but Meta cannot.
This is a new obligation that the company must follow or face legal consequences.
Even though Meta is constantly being grilled by lawmakers and human-right advocate groups across the internet, child protection groups and politicians have warned that a quick introduction of the encryption system could hamper police investigating child abuse.
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The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), has claimed that private messaging “is the front line of child sexual abuse”.
Another individual who has strongly criticized the move is a UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel who stated earlier this year that suddenly tuning on the encryption could severely hamper law enforcement who are pursuing criminals, especially online child abusers.
Privacy v Protection: It goes both ways
The technology behind end-to-end encryptions works by scrambling data as it travels between two devices.
With that said, the data exchange can only be two ways (sender-receiver(s)), and to view the message, one has to get physical access to those devices that had sent or received the message.
WhatsApp makes use of this technology and it’s quite ironic because Meta owns WhatsApp.
The NSPCC sent Freedom of Information requests to 46 police forces across England, Wales, and Scotland asking them for a breakdown of the platforms used to commit sexual offences against children last year.
The responses revealed:
- more than 9,470 instances of child sex abuse images and online child sex offences were reported to police
- 52% of these took place on Facebook-owned apps
- over a third of the cases took place on Instagram, and 13% on Facebook and Messenger, with very few occurring via WhatsApp
However, it might be too late for Meta to enforce encryption on its services such as Messenger and IG Direct Message as it could shield the majority of abusers from being detected by law enforcers.
In fact, NSPCC believes that encrypting messages by default could lead to the easier spread of child abuse imagery or online grooming.
On the other hand are advocates stating that encryption protects users’ privacy, and prevents prying by both governments and unscrupulous hackers; even the company’s boss Mark Zuckerberg has made those arguments in the past.
Delayed until 2023 to get it right
Even though Meta will still proceed with the process of implementing encryption into its system, the current delay according to Meta’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis is due to the company taking its time to get things right.
With that, the implementation will possibly be by the year 2023 even though the company had previously stated that the change will be implemented by 2022.
Ms. Davis said: “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.”
She also outlined a number of additional preventative measures the company had already put in place, including:
- “proactive detection technology” that scans for suspicious patterns of activity such as a user who repeatedly sets up new profiles, or messages a large number of people they do not know
- placing under-18 users into private or “friends only” accounts by default, and restricting adults from messaging them if they aren’t already connected
- educating young people with in-app tips on how to avoid unwanted interactions
The head of child safety online policy at NSPCC Andy Burrows agrees with Meta’s delay and said “They should only go ahead with these measures when they can demonstrate they have the technology in place that will ensure children will be at no greater risk of abuse.
“More than 18 months after an NSPCC-led a global coalition of 130 child protection organizations raised the alarm over the danger of end-to-end encryption, Facebook must now show they are serious about the child safety risks and not just playing for time while they weather difficult headlines.”