It’s been quiet on this front for a little bit, but today, Facebook has announced the next step in its shift towards the full integration of its messaging services, with the addition of end-to-end encryption for voice and video calls in Messenger, as well as the launch of new experiments to expand its encryption options to Instagram Direct.

As a starting point, let’s talk about Messenger’s new encryption choices. As you can see in the images below, Messenger’s new encrypted mode for video conversations will feature a label at the top of the screen indicating that the conversation has been secured end-to-end.

Facebook end-to-end encryption

A similar identification will be included in encrypted audio conversations, giving you with even more privacy choices for your Messenger interactions.

As explained by Facebook:

“Since 2016, we’ve provided the ability to encrypt your one-on-one text conversations using end-to-end encryption, allowing you to communicate with confidence. The usage of audio and video calling has increased dramatically in the last year, with more than 150 million video calls being made on Messenger every day. This chat mode is now being enhanced with the addition of calling capabilities, so you may make and receive calls using the same technology if you so choose.”

Indeed, Messenger users have long been able to encrypt their text chats for extra privacy, but they’ll now be able to lock up their video and audio discussion as well, while Facebook’s also adding some new settings for disappearing messages, also with a focus on privacy.

“People don’t always want or need their messages to be visible, and the timing settings allow them to choose when their messages are no longer visible in the conversation. With this upgrade, individuals in the chat will have additional choices for determining the length of time before all new messages are deleted. They may select between 5 seconds and 24 hours, depending on their preferences.”

Messenger disappearing chats

The new capabilities will provide Messenger users with an additional layer of security by encrypting their conversations and guaranteeing that their conversations remain private and confidential.

As an added bonus, Facebook has said that it is now testing end-to-end encryption for group conversations, and that it would be looking into expanding its encryption options to include Instagram in the near future:

In some regions, we will begin a limited test with adults that will allow them to opt-in to end-to-end encrypted communications and encourage them to engage in one-on-one discussions on Instagram. For an end-to-end encrypted DM to function, you must first have an existing conversation with each other or be following each other in order to initiate it. As usual, you have the option to block someone you don’t want to speak to or report anything that doesn’t seem to be right to us.

Which is beneficial from a particular viewpoint in that it will increase the level of security surrounding your private conversations and information-sharing activities. Different regulatory organizations have previously expressed major reservations about Facebook’s encryption expansion plans, and this new development will very likely reignite the discussion over whether the company ought to even be permitted to adopt such comprehensive security measures.

Back in 2019, after Facebook first announced its full messaging encryption plan, representatives from the US, UK and Australia co-signed an open letter to Facebook which called on the company to abandon the project, arguing that it would:

“…put our citizens and societies at risk by severely eroding our ability to detect and respond to illegal content and activity, such as child sexual exploitation and abuse, terrorism, and foreign adversaries’ attempts to undermine democratic values and institutions, preventing the prosecution of offenders and the protection of victims,” the authors write. ”

The governments of each area demanded that Facebook give, at the at least, ‘backdoor access’ for official investigations, a request that Facebook has consistently failed to fulfill.

The debate over the proposal has raged on ever since, with the UK’s digital minister warning that he has “very grave concerns” about Facebook’s plan, while the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has argued that move sees the tech giant prioritizing the privacy of adults over their duty of care to children.

As per NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless:

Despite the fact that private messaging is at the forefront of child sexual exploitation, the current discussion about end-to-end encryption has the potential to leave children defenseless at a time when they are most vulnerable.

In my opinion, the most persuasive and significant reason against the relocation is now in place. Predators and others who would want to utilize such systems for child exploitation would be better served if Facebook provided complete encryption throughout all of its messaging applications, which may potentially result in an increase of such behavior across the platform’s vast network.

Of course, WhatsApp messages are already end-to-end encrypted by default, and Messenger, as noted, already offers a level of encryption. So you could equally argue that such capacity already exists – but then again, the expansion of these options to all messaging platforms, as part of Facebook’s broader plan to integrate all of its messaging tools into a single platform, would greatly boost this capacity, which underlines the stated concerns.

When it comes down to it, the debate boils down to your own views about the subject. Is Facebook attempting to implement full encryption in order to better protect user information, or is it attempting to increase its own business potential by focusing on making people more comfortable in transferring private data, such as financial and health information, thereby increasing the utility of its messaging service?

Yet another argument is that implementing full encryption will allow Facebook to avoid a certain level of scrutiny over what users are sharing with one another through its apps. After all, if the company has no way of knowing what users are sharing with one another via messages, it cannot be held responsible for it either.

Here’s where your viewpoint matters: would encryption offer protection for criminals, or should Facebook be seeking to provide greater data privacy, in step with growing industry shifts? It all boils down to your opinion.

In any case, Facebook is pressing forward with its messaging integration strategy, which will unavoidably involve encryption features. The social media giant said in April that it intends to deploy full encryption across all of its messaging services, with the project expected to be finished “sometime in 2022, at the earliest.”

This is the next stage, as indicated by the new announcement. Even while the new security measures will offer an additional layer of protection, they will almost likely also re-align Facebook’s collision course with regulators and government organizations over possible negative consequences of the new measures.