With end-to-end encryption (E2EE), only the sender and recipient can read the calls and messages.
The company has also officially announced that it will soon be possible to set voice messages on WhatsApp to vanish. The voice messages will vanish after the recipient listens to them. This feature, known as ‘View Once’. This feature has been available for images and videos since 2021 and is now being extended to audio messages.
Although WhatsApp’s use of the ‘View Once’ label for audio messages, which are listened to rather than read, is somewhat confusing, it’s positive to see that another format supported by the messaging service will have the same level of security. While encrypted messages have always been an option, they will now be the default setting.
Critics of this shift, including the UK government and police, argue that default encryption features will make it more challenging to detect child sexual abuse on Messenger. Home Secretary James Cleverly, after working with Meta on addressing other online harms, has expressed his ‘deep disappointment’ with the company’s decision to implement this change.
Safety and Privacy
According to Loredana Crisan, the head of Messenger, ‘unless you choose to report a message to us,’ no one, including Meta, can see what is sent or said since the switch to encryption was made.
She wrote that the company had worked with governments, academics, advocates, and outside experts to identify risks, aiming to ‘ensure that privacy and safety go hand-in-hand.’
It is anticipated that sometime in the coming year, messages on Instagram, also owned by Meta, will automatically have encryption features.
Meta has indicated that users will be able to recognize when their chats are encrypted. Also when upgraded, as they will be prompted to configure a recovery method. This will enable them to recover their messages if they lose, add, or change a device.
However, Meta has countered this by stating that it has spent years developing robust security protocols. This was done to prevent, detect, and address abuse while maintaining internet safety.
‘The company will employ a variety of tools, including artificial intelligence, subject to applicable law, to proactively identify accounts involved in malicious patterns of behavior, rather than scanning private messages,’ Meta stated, emphasizing its approach when E2EE becomes the default.
Privacy International, a campaign organization, has endorsed the tech company’s decision. The organization conveyed to the BBC that encryption features are ‘an essential defense’. This allows for the protection of journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, artists, and marginalized groups. The protection comes against potential exploitation by data-hungry companies and governments.
Susie Hargreaves, the head of the Internet Watch Foundation, expressed her outrage at Meta’s decision, accusing them of ‘prioritizing the privacy of pedophiles over the safety of our children. Her organization is dedicated to identifying and removing online child sexual abuse material.
She claimed that the platform is “effectively rolling out the welcome mat for pedophiles,” despite its previous success in identifying a significant amount of child abuse material before it could be posted on its services.
The company announced on Wednesday that it would introduce several new and encryption features. The features include the ability to edit messages for up to fifteen minutes after they are sent.
In parallel, users will have the option to control whether senders receive ‘read receipts’. This indicates that their message has been seen.
It was stated that the company will take a few months for these changes to be implemented.
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