A project that started back in 2019 is finally coming to fruition as Meta engineers and cryptographers try to ensure scale and speed on the app despite encryption.
Meta has confirmed that it is bringing end-to-end encryption to Messenger by the end of this year.
With a test roll-out that started yesterday (22 August), Meta plans to give users of the Messenger app connected with Facebook the same level of privacy and security it extends to WhatsApp users.
Timothy Buck, product manager at Messenger, said that Meta has been working on bringing end-to-end encryption to Messenger and Instagram DMs since 2019, but the task proved to be challenging.
“It quickly became apparent that transitioning our services to end-to-end encryption would be an incredibly complex and challenging engineering puzzle. We would have to rewrite almost the entire messaging and calling code base from scratch,” he wrote in a blogpost.
This is not the first time Meta has undertaken such a task. Buck stated that a “few years ago”, Meta had updated Messenger with what it calls Lightspeed code to make the service faster and lighter. But building end-to-end encryption is “much harder”.
“We not only needed to transition to a new server architecture, but to rewrite our code base to work on multiple different devices, rather than just the server.”
The team behind Messenger’s transition is also learning from WhatsApp engineers on how to deliver messages at scale and great speed simultaneously with end-to-end encryption enabled.
“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 end-to-end encryption. This is why it will take longer than we first anticipated to transition all messages,” explained Buck.
“However, as people update their app to the latest version of Messenger, we will be able to upgrade those conversations with the additional privacy and security of end-to-end encryption.”
This comes at a time when the likes of WhatsApp, Apple and Signal have criticised the UK’s upcoming Online Safety Bill that will force messaging services to compromise on end-to-end encryption.
First drafted in 2021, the UK Online Safety Bill wants to crack down on the possession and sharing of child sex abuse material (CSAM) on popular privacy-focused messaging apps such as iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal. It will likely affect Messenger too.
On a visit to the UK in March, WhatsApp head Will Cathcart said the bill is in a legislative “grey area” that would make it impossible to comply without removing end-to-end encryption altogether.
“Some countries have chosen to block it: that’s the reality of shipping a secure product. We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. But we’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that,” Cathcart added.
Meanwhile, Meta also unveiled its latest AI model yesterday, SeamlessM4T, that it claims can transcribe and translate close to 100 languages across both text and speech.
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