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Encryption to Come to Facebook Messenger Chats

Nimble news

Source: Nimble News Network

One of the top apps on the market may soon be offering end-to-end (e2e) encryption. That’s right. Facebook Messenger, one of the top downloaded apps according to the Google Play Store and Apple’s iTunes store is said to be bringing the end-to-end encryption option to its messaging service, following the input from three unnamed sources close to the project.

Top Android apps

Top Apple store apps (Msia)

More and more tech giants are increasingly concerned with securing users’ data and privacy, and Facebook seems to be keen on stepping up their security game as well. With over 900 million users as of April 2016, rumour has it that Facebook messenger will also offer the option of end-to-end encryption sometime in the next few months.

As Jacob Ginsberg the senior director at encryption company Echoworx said:

“It seems that the large players in the technology industry are taking more notice of people’s right to communicate privately”.

End-to-end encryption is important for ensuring that messages sent can only be read by the sender and receiver of the message. This means that not only the government or hackers would not be able to intercept messages while they are being delivered, but the company themselves (in this case Facebook) will not be able to read the conversations.

While encryption works by scrambling data in order to give users peace of mind to users away from app developers, law enforcements and cloud-hosted virtual assistants, this privacy-enhancing feature will only be an opt-in one. As compared to other apps such as Whatsapp, or iMessage which offer end-to-end encryption by default, Facebook Messenger seems to be giving users the option to choose encrypted chat or not.

If the latter is the case, this will make it akin to Google’s recently-debuted Allo chat app, which makes its security feature optional for users, and only enables it in “incognito mode”. Allo allows for users to either select communicating with end-to-end encryption mode for extra privacy, or accept the trade-off of data when favouring a smarter messaging chat using machine learning technologies to serve smart replies or suggestion which would not work if end-to-end encryption was switched on.

However, Allo does not come without criticisms of its own. Edward Snowden, the poster child of privacy himself calls Google’s chat app as “dangerous and unsafe”.

Edward Snowden

Source: Twitter

An Internet company such as Facebook seeks to monetize largely by using advertising. One way in which they would do so is by a combination of sponsored partnerships with businesses and brands as well as through the AI chat bots. Using an AI bot program such as in Google, Amazon and Apple brings virtual assistants into play which analyse users’ texts, photos and other habits to put forward suggestions, perform searches and bring a personalised chat experience for users.

On the other hand, this would ultimately mean that users are forced to pick between smart AI chatbots yet foregoing personal data integration, versus tougher encryption on their chats but sacrifice the machine learning features.

Similar to Google’s Allo, the Allo app also attempts to balance users’ demands for secure messaging in “incognito mode” but also with their desire for the use of AI to oversee interactions for its smart features. However, since Facebook Messenger’s encryption is developed to be as an opt-in feature, the drawback is that the app will not be able to offer both the in-chat AI with e2e encryption as the AI features is unable to work once the end-to-end encryption is switched on.

How the in-chat smart bot works is by frequently scanning chats and reading through messages so that it can learn how a person talks and then offer appropriate responses based on the habits of the user it has learned. The problem is that this type of “machine learning” requires users’ messages and other data to be routed through corporate servers so that they can be analysed and a “smart reply” sent, as well as informing future interactions. When encryption is turned on via chatting through incognito mode, it prevents certain types of data from passing through Google’s servers and neither Facebook nor authorities would be able to decipher them.

So what are your opinions? If you had to choose between end-to-end encryption or newer ‘smart features’, which you be your pick?

 

Sources

[1] The Guardian

[2] Independent

[3] Sophos

[4] BGR

[5] Express

[6] Fortune

[7] Fast Company

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