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Facebook commits to end-to-end encryption in Messenger, despite government concerns

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Facebook is ploughing ahead with plans to bring end-to-end (E2E) encryption to its Messenger platform, despite calls from governments that it will make it easier for criminals to communicate unhindered.

Reuters reports that Facebook executives plan an expanded test of the functionality today and will detail safety measures, including stepped-up advisories for recipients of unwanted content.

Last month, lawmakers in both the UK and the US said that the encryption proposals could prevent the capture of child abusers and terrorists.

Facebook is under pressure to maintain feature parity with other messaging platforms, such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp and other competing third-party services such as Signal and Telegram.

Facebook messaging privacy chief Jay Sullivan and other executives said the company, supported by civil rights groups and many technology experts, will continue to work toward the changeover while more carefully scrutinising the data that it does collect.

Sullivan plans to call attention to a little-publicised option for E2E encryption that already exists in Messenger, hoping that increased usage will give the company more data to craft additional safety measures before it makes private chats the default setting.

“This is a good testbed for us,” Sullivan said. “It’s part of the overarching direction.”

While Messenger does not use E2E encryption by default, users can go through a series of steps to activate the function with specific contacts.

The company is also considering banning the use of Messenger accounts not linked to regular Facebook profiles. The vast majority of Messenger accounts are associated with Facebook profiles, but a greater proportion of standalone accounts are used for crime and unwelcome communications, the company said.

Requiring a link to Facebook would reduce the privacy protections of those Messenger users but give the company more information, which it could use to warn or block troublesome accounts or report suspected crimes to the police.

The enhanced safety measures the company is planning include sending reminders to users to report unwanted contacts and inviting recipients of unwanted content to send plain-text versions of the chats to Facebook to ban senders or potentially report them to police.

Facebook might also send more prompts to users reached by people with no shared friends or who have had many messages or friend requests rejected.

Facebook had previously said it wanted to ease user reporting of misconduct as it gradually moves toward more encryption, but it has offered few additional details regarding this.

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