Meta probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think about privacy. The parent company of Facebook and Instagram has come under plenty of scrutiny about its data collection.
But now it’s taking a firm stance in favor of privacy. It’s embracing end-to-end encryption across all of its messaging services.
End-to-end encryption scrambles your data on your device and only unscrambles it on the recipient’s end. That keeps it private from hackers, internet providers, the government, and even the service itself. Meta defended this practice through a recent third-party study, saying it protects human rights.
This study is the latest in a long debate between Meta and government authorities over end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp already uses it and Meta first committed to bringing it to its other platforms in 2019. Governments, in contrast, aren’t so crazy about the security feature.
Facebook’s actions in the past have led Brazilian courts to question whether the government can shut off encrypted services, and the U.S. government has fought against it, too. Many of these officials point out that encryption keeps criminals’ conversations private just like law-abiding citizens. End-to-end encryption means law enforcement can’t spy on criminals’ messages to stop them.
Despite this pushback, it seems Meta isn’t stepping down. It hopes to finally complete its encryption journey by 2023, four years after it started.
So why is Meta digging in its heels over end-to-end encryption? The most straightforward answer is that it would help protect users. Meta doesn’t have the best reputation for privacy, but implementing this feature despite pushback from the government could help reverse that.
Concerns over criminal activity are valid, but realistically, if Meta doesn’t enable end-to-end encryption, criminals could just use a different service that does.
Skeptics might also argue that the government’s dislike for encryption is because it limits their ability to spy on citizens. Offering encryption by default may not be great for the government, but it would be good for privacy.
As the report shows, end-to-end encryption does a lot of good in protecting users from prying eyes. That said, it’s still not a perfect security solution. WhatsApp suffered a massive breach in 2019, leaking private information despite the platform’s encryption.
While end-to-end encryption keeps conversations private, it doesn’t protect against all cyber threats.
Will anything change for users?
As end-to-end encryption starts rolling out on Facebook and Instagram, can you expect any changes? Most likely, there won’t be anything noticeable. You’ll still be able to send and see messages like normal, but there will be less risk of someone else intercepting and reading them.
Hopefully, end-to-end encryption will mean fewer data leaks. Users could theoretically see fewer phishing messages with accurate information or less content about things from their private conversations. For the most part, though, everyday social media activity won’t feel any different, even if it is under the surface.
Alongside its encryption efforts, Meta has promoted its Vanish mode more heavily lately. This feature erases messages when conversations end, so you may see more disappearing messages as more people use this feature.
Internet security is a complicated business
Rolling out a change as big as end-to-end encryption across all Facebook and Instagram accounts will take time.
As Meta’s latest report and the government controversy around it highlight, it’s also a complex situation. Improving privacy for everyone means accepting that you’re doing the same for bad actors, too, which could hinder law enforcement.
End-to-end encryption is a good thing for social media users. Still, the Meta situation is a good chance to stop and think about how internet security and privacy can be a tricky balancing act. Security and privacy are important, but things are often less black-and-white than they appear.
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