Facebook looks to offer encrypted calls

A screenshot posted on Twitter has provided fresh evidence to suggest that Facebook is working on end-to-end encryption for calls made on the Facebook Messenger app.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces the plan to make Facebook more private at Facebook's Developer Conference on April 30, 2019.
Facebook’s plans for end-to-end call encryption on Facebook Messenger were confirmed by a discovery made yesterday. Photo: Anthony Quintano via Flickr

According to a tweet posted yesterday, it looks like Facebook is indeed working on end-to-end encryption for calls made through Facebook Messenger.

Jane Manchun Wong is a researcher who reverse-engineers apps and software to discover unreleased features lurking within the code.

Wong has revealed number of unreleased app features before, including a Facebook dating feature and a flight safety check function hidden within Airbnb.

She posted her latest discovery on Twitter yesterday – a screenshot of the feature which appears to be in development at Facebook.

A screenshot of the unreleased feature
The screenshot posted by Jane Manchun Wong shows what the feature will look like. Photo: wongmjane via Twitter

These plans have already been announced publicly by Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg described a desire to take a more ‘privacy-focused’ approach towards user data at Facebook earlier this year.

A sudden switch towards privacy raised eyebrows given Facebook’s less than stellar track record on the issue.

Zuckerberg acknowledged this, saying, “Frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services”.

How would end-to-end encryption work on Facebook Messenger?

Facebook has already released encryption on Facebook Messenger in one form. The ‘Secret Conversations’ feature, which was rolled out in 2016, allows users to turn on encryption for specific conversations. But it only works for text conversations.

A new encrypted voice calls feature would be a completely different prospect. Although it looks like it would still be a selective feature, it would significantly improve privacy for users who like to use the messenger app.

However, it remains to be seen how end-to-end encryption would make any difference to privacy if another app was listening to conversations as they happen.

Earlier this year Facebook revealed that it was listening in on users’ audio messenger chats. There is also the popular ‘conspiracy theory’ that Facebook and/or WhatsApp eavesdrops on your conversations to serve up highly-targeted ads.

The response from governments

The announcement of Facebook’s end-to-end call encryption project has prompted a reaction from a handful of governments.

An open letter was sent to Mark Zuckerberg earlier this month, asking the Facebook CEO to delay his plans for end-to-end call encryption.

Facebook Messenger icon
Facebook is working on end-to-end call encryption. Photo: Christoph Scholz via Flickr

According to BuzzFeed News, the letter was signed by the US Attorney General William Barr, as well as the British Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton.

All three governments are worried about potential security threats which could become harder to monitor if end-to-end call encryption is implemented.

These security concerns include terrorism, child sexual exploitation and, last but certainly not least, election meddling.

Considering the fact that WhatsApp calls and messages are already end-to-end encrypted, the open letter to Mark Zuckerberg may be a little off target.

After all, WhatsApp is owned and operated by Facebook, and there are already plenty of other options for individuals who want to make calls with the added peace of mind of end-to-end encryption.

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