Social media tech giant Meta has reaffirmed its commitment to enhancing user privacy by implementing long-awaited end-to-end encryption (E2EE) on its Messenger service by the end of 2023.
On August 22, 2023, the company started upgrading people's chats to support this vital privacy feature. According to Meta, the move comes after it began to gradually expand the feature to more users in January 2023.
"Like many messaging services, Messenger and Instagram DMs were originally designed to function via servers," says Messenger Product Manager Timothy Buck. "Meta's servers act as the gateway between the message sender and receiver, what we call the clients."
Buck elaborated on the challenges faced in implementing E2EE, saying, "With E2EE, we couldn't rely on servers to process and validate message content. We needed to redesign the entire system so that it would work without Meta's servers seeing the message content."
The redesign was necessary but complex, involving upgrading "trillions of active conversations with E2EE" without affecting the speed or reliability of the service, he said.
To manage this massive shift, Meta also designed a new infrastructure of Hardware Security Models (HSM) to let users set up a PIN for additional security.
But the changes don't stop there; the company claims that more than 100 features have been rebuilt in Messenger. One notable update allows sharing links to external websites such as YouTube, with rich previews fetched and encrypted directly from the user's device instead of the server.
The adoption of E2EE comes amid intensifying debate worldwide about the balance between security and surveillance. While authorities around the world have expressed concerns about the challenges E2EE poses in gathering evidence for criminal activities, the technology's role in deterring leaks and personal communication spying remains uncontested.
"As we continue to increase the scale of our tests, and prepare to roll out the upgraded service, people will need to update their app to a recent build to access default E2EE," reads Meta's announcement.
The company stated that, as people update their app to the latest version of Messenger, their conversations will be upgraded with the additional privacy and security of end-to-end encryption.