Meta refreshes promise to roll out default end-to-end encryption in Messenger this year

Meta plans to roll out default end-to-end encryption for its Messenger product by the end of this year, the company confirmed in a blog post Tuesday.

“Starting today, millions more people’s chats on Messenger will be upgraded to stronger encryption standards as part of our ongoing end-to-end encryption (E2EE) testing,” the blog said. “We remain on track to launch default E2EE for one-to-one friends and family chats on Messenger by the end of the year.”

Meta first reaffirmed this commitment in a letter sent to Fight for the Future earlier this month, which was viewed by The Verge, responding to a pro-encryption campaign launched by the digital rights group last year. In the letter, Meta’s deputy privacy officer, Rob Sherman, said that adding the additional layer is currently being tested in both Messenger and Instagram chats. Messenger users can already encrypt messages but must opt in to the service since it isn’t on by default.

“We remain committed to rolling our default end-to-end encryption for private conversations on Messenger in 2023, and shortly afterwards for Instagram,” Sherman wrote. “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’.”

“End-to-end encryption is the best technology we have today to protect people’s messages”

Pressure for major social platforms to implement default DM encryption has grown over the last year following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer. Months after the reversal, a Nebraska teenager and her mother were charged with performing an illegal abortion after police received their private chat history from Meta. In July, the teenager was sentenced to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to additional charges related to concealing human remains.

“Our hearts broke watching the case of the Nebraska teenager who was just jailed for self-managing an abortion, knowing that the lack of default end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger played a role in her criminalization,” Leila Nashashibi, Fight for the Future campaigner, said in a statement Tuesday. “Every day that companies wait to implement this vital feature is another day where vulnerable people are put in serious danger.”

Police groups have pushed back on platforms turning on encrypted messages by default since it creates new hurdles for law enforcement to obtain evidence of criminal activity. Federal legislation has also threatened industry-wide encryption adoption. Civil rights groups have argued that Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) EARN IT Act could make it easier for platforms to be sued for offering encryption services because it can be used to send and receive child sexual abuse materials. 

Sherman told Fight for the Future that the testing phase has taken longer than expected, writing that Meta has struggled to transition DMs to servers capable of handling end-to-end encrypted traffic and must rebuild a number of product features before the service goes live. 

“I wanted to reiterate that Meta is committed to providing the ability for people to communicate privately with their friends and loved ones where they have confidence that no one else can see into their conversations,” Sherman wrote.

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