The final stage of Meta’s messaging integration program has moved a step closer, with more Instagram users now able to activate end-to-end encryption in their IG Direct chats.
As you can see in this screenshot, posted by app researcher Salman Memon (who’s based in India), some users are now seeing a new pop-up alert that they can switch on encryption in their Instagram chats.
Meta announced the coming expansion of its Instagram E2E test to more users early last month:
“Last year, we started a limited test of opt-in end-to-end encrypted messages and calls on Instagram, and in February we broadened the test to include adults in Ukraine and Russia. Soon, we’ll expand the test even further to include people in more countries and add more features like group chats.”
So it’s been coming for a little while, but as noted, the expansion is significant in that it will mean that encryption will then be available for all of its messaging platforms, which paves the way for full integration, where you’ll be able to view and engage with your WhatsApp, IG and Messenger chats across each individual app.
Though various authorities are still concerned about the potential for misuse of Meta’s expanded encryption, and its potential to shift criminal activity out of sight.
Just last month, UK Home Affairs Secretary Priti Patel called on Meta to reconsider its plans for expanded messaging encryption, as it could impede the ability of police to investigate and prevent child abuse.
As per Patel:
“Parents need to know that their kids will be safe online. The consequences of inadequate protections – especially for end-to-end encrypted social media platforms – would be catastrophic.”
Meta’s own stats on the detection and removal of child abuse material also reinforce such concerns, with Meta reporting that, throughout 2021, it found and reported 22 million pieces of child abuse imagery to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). In 2020, NCMEC also reported that Facebook was responsible for 94% of the 69 million child sex abuse images reported by US technology companies – so there clearly is a logical concern that if these perpetrators are given more tools to disguise such activity, they’ll be increasingly more likely to do so, and encryption will make it virtually impossible to detect.
The counterargument is that WhatsApp (and Messenger now too) already offers full messaging encryption, so it’s already available to those that want it, while there are also significant privacy and protection benefits that come from E2E – like, for example, in the US, in the case of newly illegitimate abortions.
Providing more protections for users in situations like these could well have major benefits, while counter research has also suggested that messaging encryption actually strengthens online safety for children “by reducing their exposure to threats such as blackmail, while also allowing businesses to share information securely”.
Neither argument is definitive, and really, you’re just weighing one against the other, and hoping you come to the right conclusion. More protections could lead to more illegal activity – but we don’t know how much of this is happening in Meta’s apps right now, so we can’t have a definitive comparison.
More privacy could also more protection – we don’t know, and without definitive justification, it’s hard to see anyone being able to force Meta to halt its plans either way.
Which are now moving ahead.
And the next stage – a universal inbox, with all your IG, Messenger and WhatsApp chats in it – could be coming before the end of the year.