On August 23, 2023, Timothy Buck, Messenger’s product manager, announced that Facebook’s messaging service would soon offer default end-to-end encryption (E2EE). The development, which has been in the works for years, could be available by the end of 2023. Instagram will also be equipped in the foreseeable future.
According to Timothy Buck, Meta’s delay stems in part from the initial design of Instagram and Facebook messaging services, which had to be modified. Messages normally transit through company servers, which is incompatible with E2EE.
In order to implement the change, Messenger teams drew inspiration from WhatsApp, which also belongs to Meta. “We learned from WhatsApp engineers how to deliver messages on a wide scale and at high speeds within an E2EE framework. We also learned the system needs to be scalable and reliable, and as easy to use and light as possible,” stated Timothy Buck.
The announcement comes in a fraught context for Meta in regard to E2EE. In 2022, the company provided Nebraska police with private Messenger conversations between a mother and daughter, relating to the latter’s abortion. In July 2023, the 19-year-old woman was sentenced to three months in prison for the illegal abortion. Her mother faces up to five years in prison.
Meta claimed the order to release the messages made no mention of the abortion. However, default E2EE would have prevented the company from accessing the interaction and therefore handing it over to law enforcement. Since then, Meta has been under pressure from civil liberties organizations to implement E2EE as soon as possible.