Facebook defies gov pressure with end-to-end encryption expansion

The social network is bringing E2EE to Messenger voice and video calls

Facebook has added the option of end-to-end encryption for voice and video calls on its Messenger communications platform, defying warnings from the UK government about the technology’s risk to children’s safety.

Messenger users have had the option of encrypted “secret conversations” over chat since 2016. However, earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would expand its focus on privacy as more people than ever shifted to communicating online due to the pandemic’s social distancing measures.

The announcement came days home secretary Priti Patel criticised Facebook’s stance on end-to-end encryption, saying that it would jeopardise the progress made in fighting online child abuse:

"Sadly, at a time when we need to be taking more action, Facebook is pursuing end-to-end encryption plans that place the good work and progress achieved so far in jeopardy," Patel told attendees of a roundtable event hosted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in April.

"The offending will continue, the images of children being abused will proliferate - but the company intends to blind itself to this problem through end-to-end encryption which prevents all access to messaging content,” 

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Minors aged 13 to 17 make up 5.8% of Facebook's global user base, with an estimated 69% 12-15-year-olds having a Facebook account. Another 62% admitted to using WhatsApp – Facebook’s only platform so far to have end-to-end encryption switched on by default. End-to-end encryption on Messenger is an opt-in feature and is not turned on by default. 

In a blog post announcing the option for encrypted voice and video calls, Facebook said that “in the coming weeks, some people may get access to more test features within these fully encrypted chats that give people greater privacy and security in their conversations”.

This will include end-to-end encrypted group chats and calls in Messenger, as well as opt-in end-to-end encryption for Instagram direct messages.

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