Meta shares details on plans to rollout default end-to-end on Messenger, while advocates highlight dangers of delay
In a private letter to Fight for the Future, Meta has reiterated its commitment to rolling out default end-to-end encryption for Messenger in 2023, a move that could significantly address users’ privacy concerns. The letter is a response to the demands of the Make DMs Safe campaign, which calls on companies with messaging platforms, including Meta, to immediately implement default end-to-end encryption for direct messages.
Key excerpts from Meta’s letter:
- Meta remains “committed to rolling our default end-to-end encryption for private conversations on Messenger in 2023, and shortly afterwards for Instagram.”
- They clarify why the process is taking time, specifically noting that, “First, it requires complex engineering work to transition messages onto servers which can deliver end-to-end encrypted traffic. Second, we have had to rebuild product features and safety tools to work with end-to-end encryption.”
- They share their perspective on the importance of end-to-end encryption: “People expect technology companies to provide the best security to protect their personal information, and we believe end-to-end is an important component of building trust with our users.”
- The letter also highlights why end-to-end encryption is not only important for security, but may also be the right business choice: “End-to-end encryption is the best technology we have today to protect people’s messages, and we also see it as an important reason why people might choose to use our products over competitors.”
Fight for the Future launched Make DMs Safe last summer after news broke of Meta handing over a Nebraska teen’s Facebook messages with her mom, as part of a criminal investigation into possible violations of the state’s anti-abortion laws.
As our increasingly digital lives open up new surface area for surveillance, identity theft, cyber attacks, and other threats, privacy experts have consistently pointed to end-to-end encryption as a vital layer of protection for everyone online, but especially for marginalized people––from activists, to abortion seekers, to communities of color that have historically faced abuse from law enforcement. Just last month, reports surfaced of a Colorado police department forcing Meta to hand over the private Facebook messages of the Chinook Center, a small progressive Colorado Springs organization that led a housing justice march in 2021, as well the private messages of one of the activists present at the march (the ACLU is now suing the police department for violations of the activists’ privacy and freedom of speech).
But mounting activist pressure, through the Make DMs Safe campaign and other efforts, is building momentum towards widespread end-to-end encryption on major online platforms. Earlier in August, Google announced RCS messages in Google’s Messages app will now be fully end-to-end-encrypted by default, and Discord recently shared it is experimenting with end-to-end encryption for voice and video calls.
Fight for the Future is calling on all companies with direct messaging platforms to take action in response to the demands of Make DMs Safe (our full report on access to end-to-end encryption on six major messaging platforms is available here). While Meta has been willing to discuss its end-to-end encryption plans, other companies including Slack, Apple, Discord, and Google have not responded to Fight for the Future’s letters.
“Meta has a ridiculous amount of resources, and the roll-out of end-to-end encryption should have started years ago, when advocates first began raising concerns about the privacy of users’ messages. Our hearts broke watching the case of the Nebraska teenager who was just jailed for self-managing an abortion, knowing that the absence of default end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger played a role in her criminalization. Every day that companies wait to implement this vital feature is another day where vulnerable people are put in serious danger,” said Leila Nashashibi, Campaigner at Fight for the Future. “We urge Meta to move as quickly as possible on launching default end-to-end encryption for DMs, while also doing everything necessary to get it right––including having the strength of its encryption tools independently audited. Our message to other companies that haven’t responded to our end-to-end encryption demands is this: people’s lives are on the line, and it’s time you come to the table to discuss this critical protection for users.”
“Online privacy matters immensely for abortion-seekers, and secure communications should be a top priority for tech companies hoping to make personal health care information safe from intrusion, criminalization, and stigmatization. Reproaction applauds any efforts to enhance end-to-end encryption on messaging platforms, and remains committed to tracking progress towards that necessary goal,” said Shireen Rose Shakouri, Deputy Director of Reproaction.
“Without full access to end-to-end encryption on Meta platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Threads users are at risk of being criminalized by law enforcement officials and political leaders for seeking life-saving abortion medications or abortion care where they live. That’s why we are amplifying demands that Meta expedite its efforts to provide end-to-end encryption for all users before another person is unjustly convicted for seeking basic forms of healthcare.
“While Meta has publicly committed to expanding default encryption to all Messenger chats eventually, the process is not moving fast enough. States will continue passing severe anti-abortion restrictions and bans, and conservative courts will keep chipping away at abortion care access.
“Until Meta fully protects users with end-to-end encryption on all of its platforms, the company is complicit in the surveillance and criminalization of pregnant people. We urge Mark Zuckerberg and Meta leadership to expedite its expansion of end-to-end encryption immediately. This is about more than consumer privacy. For people in states where abortion is heavily restricted or banned, this matter is of pivotal importance,” said Nicole Regalado, Vice President of Campaigns at UltraViolet.