Facebook Messenger to feature optional end-to-end encryption: report

Facebook Messenger to feature optional end-to-end encryption: report

Facebook is joining a parade of tech companies rolling out end-to-end encryption following the FBI’s high-profile standoff with Apple, according to The Guardian.

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The social media giant plans to release an optional encrypted communications mode for its Messenger app in the coming months, the publication reports, citing sources close to the project.

The option will allow the app's 900 million users to guard their messages from interception by anyone other than the sender and the recipient.

But unlike Apple products, which feature default end-to-end encryption, Facebook plans to make the encryption optional because deploying it as the norm would interfere with certain machine-learning features the company is building into the app.

Google also recently announced an optional end-to-end encrypted mode in its new messaging app, Allo — but the move drew fire from some privacy advocates, who typically cheer advances in commercial encryption.

“Hey @google, what the shit? You support encryption? Turn it on by default, or don't bother playing,” tweeted Nate Cardozo, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization.

Some saw the move as an attempt to strike a middle ground in the toxic debate over encryption — as well as a nod toward Google’s data collection and analytics services.

“Making encryption opt-in was a decision made by the business and legal teams. It enables Google to mine chats and not piss off governments,” tweeted Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Since the FBI’s case against Apple over San Bernardino, Calif., shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s locked iPhone — in which the company refused to help the agency hack into the device — several high-profile messaging services have announced upgrades to their encryption.

The communications app WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, announced in April that it had completed the roll-out of end-to-end encryption for its more than a billion users.

It received plaudits from technologists and privacy advocates and searing vitriol from opponents of so-called warrant-proof encryption.

“This is an open invitation to terrorists, drug dealers, and sexual predators to use WhatsApp's services to endanger the American people. We cannot allow companies to purposefully design applications that make it impossible to comply with court orders,” Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA MORE (R-Ark.) argued in a statement that called the move part of “a dangerous trend in the tech and data world.”

As tech companies have stiffened encryption to combat hackers — and, some say, bolster their reputation for protecting privacy in the wake of the information disclosures by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden — authorities say they have struggled to execute search warrants.

In March, The New York Times reported that a criminal investigation by the Justice Department had been stymied by WhatsApp’s encryption.

In the San Bernardino case, Apple argued that to help the FBI in the manner it was requesting would undermine the security and privacy of millions of everyday users.

The agency was ultimately able to hack into the device without Apple’s help, but the fight made clear the battle lines in a long-simmering dispute over the degree of access law enforcement should have to encrypted communications.

Facebook declined to comment on the report.