Facebook has begun testing end-to-end encryption enabled by default on Facebook Messenger. The chat service already offered the functionality, but this still has to be enabled manually.
Facebook says it will start the test this week and that ‘some people’ will automatically participate in it. If a user is selected for the test, ‘some of the most frequent chats are automatically encrypted end-to-end’. Messages sent from that moment in those chats will be encrypted by default.
It is unclear whether the chat is also encrypted at the recipient; then the other correspondent should also be involved in the test, at least for that particular conversation. It is in any case plausible that the transport of the message and the storage at the test participant are encrypted.
WhatsApp, also from parent company Meta, has had end-to-end encryption enabled by default since 2014. Late last year, Meta commented on why other products, such as Instagram and Facebook Messenger, were lagging behind. The motivation at the time was a fear that abuse would be less easily detected if conversations were encrypted. What Meta does with that concern it doesn’t report, but at least the beginning of standard end-to-end encryption is here now.
The news comes very shortly after a high-profile issue in the United States: Facebook complied with a court order to hand over chat logs of conversations between a mother and daughter to the police. In those conversations, the two discussed the abortion that the daughter would have committed at home, with medication. The encryption opt-in variant for Messenger has been around since 2016, but this mother and daughter apparently haven’t used it.
Facebook says it is also conducting tests with other Messenger cases. For example, deleted messages will ‘sync’ across all connected devices, there will be an unsend function for messages and more users will be able to opt-in to encryption on Instagram’s messaging service.