Facebook Messenger and Instagram chats won’t be encrypted by default until at least 2022
Facebook has received plenty of criticism over the past few years, partially because the company has a near-monopoly on messaging and social networks in some countries, and also due to Facebook’s abhorrent track record with user privacy and data. The company has been slow-moving to improve its public perception, and one element of that — encrypting messages between users without having to change any settings — won’t be ready anytime soon.
Facebook first rolled out end-to-end encryption in its Messenger app in 2016, though it’s only available by switching to a ‘Secret Conversation’ mode, which also prevents some features from working. Instagram hasn’t rolled out end-to-end encryption for messages and has even been testing features that seemingly won’t work over E2E connections (like messaging on the desktop). Facebook said in 2019 that it would eventually add E2E encryption to Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. The company also revealed earlier that year that all three platforms would be switched to a unified infrastructure, allowing cross-communication between all three services.
Facebook announced updates to its safety and security plans in a blog post today. The post primarily focused on the results of studies and interviews about privacy, but nestled in the text is a blurb about the status of end-to-end encryption on Facebook’s platforms:
While we expect to make more progress on default end-to-end encryption for Messenger and Instagram Direct this year, it’s a long-term project and we won’t be fully end-to-end encrypted until sometime in 2022 at the earliest. Moreover, the safety features we’ve already introduced are designed to work with end-to-end encryption, and we plan to continue building strong safety features into our services.
It’s a bit surprising that Facebook is taking years to implement end-to-end encryption across all its services, especially considering the planning started as early as 2019. Adding the required infrastructure and client-side software to handle E2E across several platforms is tricky, but it seems like Facebook is prioritizing other features.
In the meantime, other messaging services like Signal and Telegram are continuing to steal users from Facebook’s services, largely due to the company’s poor privacy. Both apps received a spike in downloads following the controversy around WhatsApp’s planned changes to its terms of service, though Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger remain near the top of the Play Store’s free apps (as they have for years).