One year on from Facebook’s announcement to move towards a privacy-focused vision, it’s time to examine what’s going on. If you’re already aware of this situation then you may share the same concerns as I have. It might also make you feel differently about the world’s most popular social media platform. In this post, I’m going to look at what you need to know about Facebook’s plans for encryption, and why it’s so important to be informed.
There’s no doubt that the world now operates predominantly digitally. Social media is deeply ingrained into our everyday lives. With that, apps like Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram allow us instant contact with each other.
It’s become an extension of who we all are, for better or for worse.
This time last year, Mark Zuckerberg announced plans for Facebook to move towards a ‘privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform’. In a nutshell, this means end-to-end encryption of messages and ultimately, shared social content.
In layman’s terms, end-to-end encryption means that only the people messaging each other have access to the contents of the message. Not even the app provider can see or read the contents of your messages in this model. Privacy is, of course, of fundamental importance, but this move has caused huge concerns over safeguarding and the potential for digital crime to skyrocket.
Facebook’s plans for encryption
Facebook is now moving ahead with their plan to implement this end-to-end encryption of messages on both Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct.
This is concerning, primarily because encrypted apps are now the main source of open trade for child abuse images and stolen credit card numbers. Users of the dark web have found ways to operate on a more mainstream basis thanks to secure, end-to-end encrypted messenger services such as Whatsapp and Telegram.
Privacy online arguably matters more than ever. However, encrypted messengers of this kind become out of reach even for the authorities. They leave online spaces wide open for criminal manipulation. A BBC report from last February confirms that this is already happening, so why is Facebook still continuing down this road?
How concerned should we be?
The NSPCC is leading a campaign against Facebook’s plan to go ahead with end-to-end encryption, with the backing of more than 100 other organisations. So, to be honest, I’m pretty concerned. We should be making it harder for criminals to operate online, not easier. Without proper safeguards in place, the fact that Facebook is already moving towards this is worrying.
I’ve seen a lot of online commentary on this topic along the lines of ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide why should you be worried?’. To me, this is nonsensical. It’s not about whether or not you have anything to hide. it’s about stopping the ones that do. The internet needs to be pulling any safe spaces away from abusers, not making their lives easier.
Facebook, as a global tech giant, has more power to do this than anyone else. And yet instead, they’re effectively ignoring the advice of hundreds of child welfare organisations and police authorities and pressing ahead with their move to encrypt social media messaging anyway.
Do Facebook’s plans for encryption really affect me?
Possibly not directly, but it’s the wider impact of this move that we should all consider. By making messaging on Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct impenetrable via end-to-end encryption, social media will become even more antisocial.
It will be much harder for the police to do their job effectively if criminal communications are locked down this tightly. Evidence gathering for cases will become practically impossible. Especially given that with this kind of encryption, not even Facebook itself will be able to access the content of messages.
In a culture where we’re calling for openness and transparency around the use of our data, this sharp veer towards total privacy seems extreme. There should be a happier medium between people’s right to privacy and the ability to monitor and safeguard children and adults from online abuse. Not to mention the transmission of other criminal activity such as theft, fraud and hacking.
What can I do about this?
You can sign the NSPCC’s online letter to Facebook as well as emailing your MP to call for the Government to publish the Online Harms Bill. This is a new bill, designed to hold big tech companies to account over the safeguarding of children online.
You can also share this post, talk about this issue and bring it to people’s attention. It’s something that could easily slip through the net of public awareness. So even just letting people know about Facebook’s plans is a positive step.
Not all encryption is bad. In fact, most of it is a good thing. However, for it to be used in this way without proper safeguards in place could have disastrous ramifications for children and other victims of crime. I’m no expert, but we all have a responsibility to become more digitally aware. It’s vital in order to keep our children and our online communities safe.
What do you think about Facebook’s plans for encryption?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about it until fairly recently. I’d love to hear what you think about this move. Were you already aware of it? Do you think it’s a good idea or not? Let me know in the comments, or as always you can catch up with me over on Twitter or Instagram.