Facebook's Push for End-to-End Encryption Is Good News for User Privacy, as Well as Terrorists and Paedophiles

MichaelJayBerlin/Shutterstock.com

Every decision has tradeoffs.

Facebook is planning end-to-end encryption on all its messaging services to increase privacy levels.

The tech giant started experimenting with this earlier this year. Soon, end-to-end encryption will be standard for every Facebook message.

But Australian, British and United States governments and law makers aren’t happy about it. They fear it will make it impossible to recover criminal conversations from Facebook’s platforms, thus offering impunity to offenders.

For instance, this was a major concern following the 2017 London terror attacks. Attackers used WhatsApp (Facebook’s end-to-end encrypted platform), and this frustrated police investigations.

But does Facebook’s initiative place the company between a political rock and an ethical hard place?

What is end-to-end encryption?

End-to-end encryption is a method of communicating more securely, compared to non-encrypted communications.

It involves using encryption (via cryptographic keys) that excludes third parties from accessing content shared between communicating users.

When the sender wants to communicate with the receiver, they share a unique algorithmic key to decrypt the message. No one else can access it, not even the service provider.

The Real Incentive

Facebook’s plan to enact this change is paradoxical, considering the company has a history of harvesting user data and selling it to third parties.

Now, it supposedly wants to protect the privacy of the same users.

One possible reason Facebook is pushing for this development is because it will solve many of its legal woes.

With end-to-end encryption, the company will no longer have backdoor access to users’ messages.

Thus, it won’t be forced to comply with requests from law enforcement agencies to access data. And even if police were able to get hold of the data, they would still need the key required to read the messages.

Only users would have the ability to share the key (or messages) with law enforcement.

Points in Favour

Implementing end-to-end encryption will positively impact Facebook users’ privacy, as their messages will be protected from eavesdropping.

This means Facebook, law enforcement agencies and hackers will find it harder to intercept any communication done through the platform.

And although end-to-end encryption is arguably not necessary for most everyday conversations, it does have advantages, including:

1) protecting users’ personal and financial information, such as transactions on Facebook Marketplace

2) increasing trust and cooperation between users

3) preventing criminals eavesdropping on individuals to harvest their information, which can render them victim to stalking, scamming and romance frauds

4) allowing those with sensitive medical, political or sexual information to be able to share it with others online

5) enabling journalists and intelligence agencies to communicate privately with sources.

Not Foolproof

However, even though end-to-end encryption will increase users’ privacy in certain situations, it may still not be enough to make conversations completely safe.

This is because the biggest threat to eavesdropping is the very act of using a device.

End-to-end encryption doesn’t guarantee the people we are talking to online are who they say they are.

Also, while cryptographic algorithms are hard to crack, third parties can still obtain the key to open the message. For example, this can be done by using apps to take screenshots of a conversation, and sending them to third parties.

A Benefit for Criminals

When Facebook messages become end-to-end encrypted, it will be harder to detect criminals, including people who use the platform to commit scams and launch malware.

Others use Facebook for human or sex trafficking, as well as child grooming and exploitation.

Facebook Messenger can also help criminals organise themselves, as well as plan and carry out crimes, including terror attacks and cyber-enabled fraud extortion hacks.

The unfortunate trade-off in increasing user privacy is reducing the capacity for surveillance and national security efforts.

End-to-end encryption on Facebook would also increase criminals’ feeling of security.

However, although tech companies can’t deny the risk of having their technologies exploited for illegal purposes – they also don’t have a complete duty to keep a particular country’s cyberspace safe.

What to do?

A potential solution to the dilemma can be found in various critiques of the UK’s 2016 Investigatory Powers Act.

It proposes that, on certain occasions, a communications service provider may be asked to remove encryption (where possible).

However, this power must come from an authority that can be held accountable in court for its actions, and this should be used as a last resort.

In doing so, encryption will increase user privacy without allowing total privacy, which carries harmful consequences.

So far, several governments have pushed back against Facebook’s encryption plans, fearing it will place the company and its users beyond their reach, and make it more difficult to catch criminals.

End-to-end encryption is perceived as a bulwark for surveillance by third parties and governments, despite other ways of intercepting communications.

Many also agree surveillance is not only invasive, but also prone to abuse by governments and third parties.

Freedom from invasive surveillance also facilitates freedom of expression, opinion and privacy, as observed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In a world where debate is polarised by social media, Facebook and similar platforms are caught amid the politics of security.

It’s hard to say how a perfect balance can be achieved in such a multifactorial dilemma.

Either way, the decision is a political one, and governments - as opposed to tech companies - should ultimately be responsible for such decisions.

The ConversationRoberto Musotto is a Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre postdoctoral fellow at the Edith Cowan University and David S. Wall is a professor of criminology at the University of Leeds

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.