Facebook to encrypt email notifications

Facebook to encrypt email notifications
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Facebook users can now encrypt all notifications they receive from the social network.

The popular online service said Monday it will encrypt email alerts to users who support PGP, a reliable though not commonly used method of securing communication end-to-end.

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End-to-end encryption makes it hard for anyone except the sender and recipient to see a message.

With nearly 1.5 billion active monthly users, Facebook wants to protect the content of alerts that may be notifying users of private messages, a new message from a secret group, or even simple account changes.

In the wake of the government leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosures of government snooping, many online services have been taking steps toward universal encryption to keep information hidden from government eyes at all times.

In 2013, Facebook started securing all activity on its site with HTTPS, a common method of encrypting Web browsing. Last fall, the company also launched a Facebook site on the Tor anonymous network, which hides users’ activity, location and identity.

“However these technologies protect only the direct connections people make to Facebook,” the company said in a Monday blog post. “People also receive information from us over channels such as email.”

Therefore, if hackers got into a user’s email provider or email account, “the stored content of those messages may be accessible as plaintext (with attachments).”

Privacy advocates said the move was critical for dissidents and journalists operating under repressive regimes.

"Security tools like PGP encryption are most effective when they are used widely," said Geoffrey King, internet advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, in a statement. "Facebook has taken an important step to help protect users' private communications by default, and make the risky environment in which journalists work a little bit safer."

Law enforcement officials have expressed concern at the rise of encrypted social networks. They worry it could give criminals a forum to operate without fear of being discovered.

To take advantage of the new feature, Facebook users can upload their public PGP key to a new field in the “Contact and Basic Info” section of a profile.