2020 will serve Facebook tougher questions on how to protect all of our data

Facebook has faced increased scrutiny over its use of user data over recent years. Now, the company has come to an important fork in the road which will affect all of us in the years to come.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gives U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a tour of Facebook's new headquarters
Facebook is now one of the most influential companies in the world. Photo: GPA Photo Archive via Flickr

Since 2016, the sheer power wielded by Facebook has become apparent. After it was revealed the platform was a key tool in Russian attempts to influence the US general election and the UK’s Brexit referendum, people have started to wake up to the need for better data security.

Now, Facebook has clearly changed its stance towards the issue of data privacy. Earlier this year Mark Zuckerberg publicly proclaimed his company’s commitment to protecting the data of its users.

Facebook is currently working on implementing end-to-end encryption for calls made on the Facebook Messenger app.

This is welcome news for users of Facebook Messenger. End-to-end encryption will make calls made through the app secure and practically un-hackable.

Depending on the encryption method used, even quantum computers would struggle to crack the code used to protect user communications. But governments aren’t happy about the prospect of fully-encrypted calls and messages.

Good news for users, bad news for governments

While encryption is good news for the general public, especially in an age of cybercrime and data theft, it has governments around the world worried.

A popular, fully-encrypted communication platform would make their attempts to monitor criminals much harder.

Unsecured communications channels are an important tool used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to track and prosecute criminals.

That’s why the US, UK and Australian governments publicly requested that Facebook shelve its plans for encryption across its various communications platforms.

Thumbs up front sign at Facebook
Facebook says it wants to make user data security a priority. Photo: daveynin via Flickr

Backdoor access

Encryption relies on un-crackable ciphers to secure data. But Facebook has received requests for backdoor access to communications channels from governments around the world.

The problem with backdoor access is that it removes the water-tight security encryption offers in the first place.

If there is a way to bypass encryption, it can be exploited by anyone with the means to do so.

There is an undeniable need for law enforcement agencies to have access to private communications when it comes to serious criminals.

Mark Zuckerberg addressing the issue of privacy
Mark Zuckerberg addresses the issue of privacy and the future of Facebook at the F8 conference. Photo: Facebook

There will always be a need to monitor terrorist cells, child exploitation rings and various other groups which engage in serious criminal activities, for example.

But backdoor access which bypasses encryption is not the answer. If criminals are able to work out how to use the backdoor, they could theoretically gain access to all encrypted communications passing through the platform.

As explained by security expert Professor Alan Woodward, “a backdoor is rather like leaving a key under the mat – once someone knows it is there anyone can walk in.”

So, what is the solution? In his article posted on The Next Web, Andersen Cheng, CEO of Post-Quantum explains a method which would work much better.

Using blockchain, Cheng suggests that backdoor access should rely on validation by three separate parties.

For example, if access required validation by a government agency, the social media provider and a neutral third-party, such as a court, it would be very hard for criminals to exploit it themselves.

As Facebook continues to fight the case for encryption this year, Cheng’s advice is a reminder of how the issue should be approached.

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