Meta Says User Safety Prompts Delay for Default Encryption

Last month, Meta Platforms announced it would delay until 2023 the introduction of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) by default on Messenger and Instagram. Now the company is shedding light on its decision, which walks the line between issues of privacy and public safety. Child advocates said the change would help abusers avoid detection. Since the purpose of encryption is to shield sensitive information for things like financial and health information, it wouldn’t do to have human monitors poking around there. Meta is using artificial intelligence in an attempt to prevent bad behavior before it happens.

“In an end-to-end encrypted environment, we will use artificial intelligence to proactively detect accounts engaged in malicious patterns of behavior instead of scanning your private messages,” Meta explained in a blog post. “Our machine learning technology will look across non-encrypted parts of our platforms — like account information and photos uploaded to public spaces — to detect suspicious activity and abuse.”

By way of example, Meta explains: “if an adult repeatedly sets up new profiles and tries to connect with minors they don’t know or messages a large number of strangers, we can intervene to take action, such as preventing them from interacting with minors. We can also default minors into private or ‘friends only’ accounts. We’ve started to do this on Instagram and Facebook.”

The company says it’s been getting good results with its “safety notices” that warn young people in-app about how to avoid unwanted attention, providing tips on identifying suspicious activity and how to block, report or restrict bad actors.

“We developed these safety tips using machine learning to help people avoid scams, spot impersonations and, most urgently, flag suspicious adults attempting to connect to minors,” notes the blog post. “In the past month alone, more than 100 million people have seen safety notice banners on Messenger. And, this feature works with end-to-end encryption.”

The company “also recently rolled out a series of increased protections for accounts belonging to minors, including defaulting them to private or ‘friends only’ accounts across Facebook and Instagram,” TechCrunch reports. “It also this year introduced features that would restrict adult Instagram users from being able to contact teens who didn’t already follow them,”

The company then known as Facebook first announced E2EE plans in March 2019, and as recently as April said it would add the technology in 2022. The Messenger and Instagram DM platforms were merged last year to create unified messaging across the company’s networks and can be encrypted on demand.

The UK’s Online Safety Bill, published as a draft in May, is expected to become law next year, requiring social platforms to shield children from harm. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has been critical of Facebook’s encryption plans. The Verge reports that last year “the U.S. joined the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, and Japan in a call to give local law enforcement backdoor encryption access, which would allow authorities to view encrypted messages and files if a warrant is issued.”

Facebook Will Force More At-Risk Accounts to Use Two-Factor, Wired, 12/2/21

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