Meta has rolled out default end-to-end encryption for Facebook Messenger users despite concerns the move will make it harder to tackle child abuse.
The tech giant had been criticised by children’s charities and the National Crime Agency over the plans, which bring the chat app in line with services like Signal and its own WhatsApp.
End-to-end encryption, which prevents content from being seen by anyone outside the chat, has been an option on Messenger for years but was made the default setting in an update on Thursday.
The company said the feature is vital to protecting user privacy and means “nobody, including Meta, can see what’s sent or said” – unless a user reports a message.
But the NSPCC has accused Mark Zuckerberg‘s firm of “choosing to turn a blind eye to crimes against children” by moving ahead with the rollout.
Chief executive Sir Peter Wanless believes the technology makes it easier for abusers to exploit young victims and share images with other offenders.
“This flies in the face of the priority the public attaches to basic child safety online,” he said.
‘This problem won’t go away’
James Babbage of the National Crime Agency also reiterated his opposition to the move.
He said it would make it harder for law enforcement to obtain evidence of crimes taking place on Meta’s platforms.
“This problem won’t go away, if anything it will likely get worse,” he warned.
“Offenders will still use Facebook Messenger to send illegal material, and will use the vast quantity of data shared on the platform about children to select and groom future victims.”
Meta has insisted it will continue to work with law enforcement to report crimes and protect users.
The company has said it has “robust safety measures” to prevent and detect abuse while maintaining security.
End-to-end encryption was a key sticking point as the government’s Online Safety Bill made its way through parliament earlier this year, as it proposed giving regulator Ofcom the power to force platforms to scan messages for abusive or dangerous content.
WhatsApp and Signal were among the platforms to threaten to pull out of the UK if the measure is used.
Messenger’s encryption update on Thursday included several other features, including letting users turn off read receipts and edit messages for up to 15 minutes after sending them.