If you are one of the 1.3 billion Facebook Messenger users, you have just received a serious reason to quit. While recent headlines suggest the platform is adding new security protections, there’s a nasty twist that makes it riskier than it looks, raising new questions on Facebook and its customers. secret back systems.
While the controversial update to CSAM and the surprise Apple rollback dominated the headlines, Facebook has quietly made a huge change to Messenger that arguably has more serious implications for your security and privacy than anything else. that Apple did.
Messenger’s biggest problem has always been its lack of end-to-end encryption by default. Now, after years of delays and disappointments, Facebook said it finally unveils some of these long-awaited features. But there are two huge issues buried beneath the surface here, both of which you should be aware of if you continue to use the app.
Facebook is in the data collection business, we all know that. But it’s also in the area of ââuser collection. Just look at the numbers. Facebook has four apps that have surpassed 3 billion installsâFacebook itself, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. TikTok is the only other app to reach these heights. Think about it for a moment.
But not all of these users are the same. Facebook, Messenger and Instagram are closely linked. The main platform and its photo-sharing affiliate present you literally coded algorithmic timelines to learn from their mistakes – when you look up, exit the app, do something else. Meanwhile, DM Messenger and Instagram let you engage your social graphic, connecting all that eye-catching content in one place with everyone you know.
WhatsApp is different, it has always been different. There is no algorithmic content to draw you in, no timeline to scroll, just a bunch of chats and groups where users exchange messages in relative privacy. Facebook is desperate to exploit metadata, social graphics, deliver ads and commercial services. But WhatsApp remains different, distant.
So what about Facebook finally moving forward with its horribly delayed end-to-end encryption for DM Messenger and Instagram to match WhatsApp security? Let’s be clear, you need to use fully encrypted messaging, but that doesn’t mean all messengers must be fully encrypted or that encryption by itself is a silver bullet that suddenly makes all private and secure.
Many respected security professionals believe end-to-end encryption should be ubiquitous. âDigital listening is dangerous,â says Jake Moore of ESET. âMessenger made the right decision to emphasize the importance of end-to-end encryption by setting it as the default on all communications. This will undoubtedly increase confidence in a platform that has been crimped in recent years. “
I would usually agree, but Facebook Messenger is different. It is part of a social media platform that collects large amounts of observational data about its users when they use the platform; it is also used by children and allows users to find people and then get in touch with them. You just can’t do it on WhatsApp or Signal.
I’m taking a simple view here. If my kids are using social media, I don’t want a stranger to be able to browse the site, find their profiles and send secret messages with them. Facebook tells me it has technology to prevent this. But oddly enough, I don’t trust assurances from Facebook that its technology can handle this – nor the leading child advocacy group NSPCC, which warns that evidence shows that encryption will lead to “a significant drop in reports of child abuse. children … a [failure] to protect children from preventable damage.
Facebook tells me that Messenger encryption will not reduce its ability to report child abuse on its platform. But internally, the company doesn’t seem so sure. Earlier this year, Facebook’s head of global policy management was asked if reported cases of child abuse could ‘go away’ with encryption and said: ‘I would expect the numbers to go down. . If the content is shared and we don’t have access to that content, if it’s content we can’t see it, then it’s content that we can’t report. “
For its part, Facebook is now announcing that it will add controls to allow users to “prevent unwanted interactions by deciding who can access your discussion list, who accesses your requests folder and who cannot send you at all. message â. But giving children full responsibility for protecting themselves from unwanted contact is as bad an idea as it sounds.
Is there some recognition of this in other Facebook news about its “end-to-end opt-in encryption for Instagram DMs?” May be. The platform says it is now planning “a limited test with adults in some countries that allows them to opt for end-to-end encrypted messages and calls for 1: 1 conversations on Instagram.” Keeping full encryption for adults only on Instagram would be a welcome move.
Regardless of your take on CSAM on the device and Apple’s iMessage filtering, it’s clearly impossible to search iMessage looking for people to contact. You must have a phone number or iCloud ID to contact us. But he emphasizes the point. Protected messaging and open social media platforms are a toxic combination.
You also can’t trawl WhatsApp, of course, and a private chat there is more or less exactly that. Yes, it will give law enforcement metadata if asked, but there isn’t a lot of metadata. it knows your number, your contacts, your groups, times and places of connection. It says it doesn’t even (usually) capture any data about who you’re messaging and when.
A private conversation on Messenger or Instagram is very different. These platforms know everything about you, they mine your data by default. With Messenger encryption, you can whisper in your friend’s ear and Facebook may not be able to hear, but it monitors everything you do and it can fill in the gaps. Your actual message content may be protected, but everything else is fair game.
Facebook is the global messaging giant: Messenger and Instagram (with its DMs) reach over a billion users, while WhatsApp has twice as many. It’s interesting how WhatsApp competes with iMessage and Android Messages and smaller competitors like Telegram and Signal. But what a lot Following interesting is the way in which Facebook’s own platforms now compete with each other, and in particular that WhatsApp and Messenger are becoming rivals, with their interests far from aligned.
WhatsApp is evolving into a much more comprehensive messenger month by month: messages that disappear and are displayed only once, cross-device access, stickers and rich chat features, soon (we’re told) quick emoji responses. All of these weigh in on Messenger’s advantages over WhatsApp. Yes, it makes the integration easier, but it also fills major gaps in WhatsApp that could have kept you on Messenger.
Of these, the long-awaited news that WhatsApp has finally fixed its biggest weakness, with multi-device access. finally live as a public beta ahead of its production release, is a twist with huge implications. âFor years,â said WhatsApp, âpeople have been asking us to create a true cross-device experience that allows people to use WhatsApp on other devices without the need for a smartphone connection.â
As it stands, you now have two Facebook messaging options that are becoming much closer rivals than ever. WhatsApp, a dedicated point-to-point messenger, and the combination of Messenger and Instagram, both add-ons to social media platforms, both widely used by children and under fire from critics to algorithmically distribute content harmful and endanger users.
If you follow the logic, these three (becoming two) messaging platforms should stay separate. WhatsApp is now bridging the feature gap with multi-device access. You won’t need any integration to send messages to WhatsApp users from your tablet or desktop using another Facebook app, you can use a WhatsApp app instead.
The most serious problem is that if Facebook Is persisting with its Messenger plans risks forcing lawmakers to force backdoors into its encryption given child safety concerns, and if these Facebook plans continue to include backend integration, WhatsApp will be affected. WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart has publicly beaten the drums on encryption all year round. Messenger could be the biggest threat for this. Again, we see this interesting agenda, with the competing interests of WhatsApp and Facebook.
All of this raises concerns for Facebook that it might need to maintain the fence around WhatsApp that it promised when acquiring the platform, and which has since been threatened. Should Facebook accept that the safest option is to keep WhatsApp safe, paying the price for restricting security enhancements to Messenger and keeping WhatsApp out of any back-end integration? The looming threat of cutting WhatsApp out of Facebook appears to have decreases, insofar as integration was a defensive process, can we rethink it today?
So as you see PR coming separately from Facebook and WhatsApp, keep that context in mind. Ask yourself if we are not hearing two very different and contradictory points of view: Does WhatsApp now know that the best thing it can take from 2021 is more independence, even if it comes at the expense of Messenger (and Facebook)?
While Apple grabbed the headlines with the backlash from CSAM, the irony is that the quiet news from Facebook that Messenger’s encryption has progressed has deeper implications for the protection of children. And Facebook advancing this encryption may have deeper implications for WhatsApp than Apple’s CSAM updates being abused by governments and opening the door to backdoors. Facebook has been repeatedly warned that Messenger encryption is a step too far, and yet here we are.
If you are still on Messenger, if you are tied to its multi-device access, as soon as the full WhatsApp update hits your phone, you need to change. Unlike Messenger, it will be end-to-end encrypted on all your devices, it will harvest much less of your data, and your security will not come at the expense of additional risk to others.