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Meta rolls out full encryption on Facebook as online safety debate rumbles on

Meta rolls out encryption on Messenger and Facebook Image credit: Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

Meta has rolled out end-to-end encryption for personal chats on Messenger on Facebook, reigniting the UK government’s debate on online safety.

The move will make end-to-end encryption the default on Facebook and Messenger. It had previously been opt-in.

End-to-end encryption, or E2EE, means that only the sender and receiver can read the contents of the message.

The communication method became a controversial focal point of the Online Safety Bill, which became law in October.

The legislation, which aims to make the internet a safer place for children, had originally sought to require social media firms to scan encrypted messages for child abuse material.

Ministers were later forced to concede it was not “technically feasible” to scan encrypted messages for such material without undermining privacy for everyone.

Michelle Donelan, the technology secretary, said on Thursday that the government’s responsibility is to “keep people safe”.

She added: “The government supports E2EE products as a tool for privacy, but we have consistently been clear that companies should only implement end-to-end encryption if they can simultaneously prevent abhorrent child sexual abuse on their platforms.”

Meta said on Wednesday that it had begun the rollout of end-to-end encryption immediately but that it might take time for all Messenger accounts to receive the update.

Both WhatsApp (which is owned by Meta) and Signal have previously threatened to leave the UK if the bill forced the companies to undermine end-to-end encryption.