Company delayed rollout of new feature of end-to-end encryption on its messaging app in Europe after British MPs raised concerns about messages being vulnerable to snooping
Facebook has delayed the rollout of encrypted messages on its Messenger app in Europe following concerns from MPs about user data protection, including fears that messages could be vulnerable to snooping on children.
The technology giant has announced it is now taking aim at other countries after delaying the rollout of the feature in Europe.
The move is the latest in a series of new privacy measures being introduced by Facebook in the wake of criticism from UK lawmakers, who demanded the company hand over documents at a hearing earlier this month.
The messaging feature has been open to users for years in other markets such as the US, Canada and Hong Kong.
It allows users to keep their conversations with each other confidential by encrypting their messages and potentially limiting access to those who have the device used to send them.
The messaging system was a highlight of Messenger app when it was released, along with video calling and the ability to hold chats with groups of friends.
But in November 2016 Facebook executives confirmed it was introducing end-to-end encryption on every device globally by the end of the year. The encryption of messages comes with the consent of each user and works by allowing users to read messages without transmitting any information.
But in a blogpost on Thursday, the company said it had now delayed the rollout by four months in Europe so it could review feedback from privacy and regulatory authorities on the messaging service.
“Following privacy and data protection authorities’ guidance, we are taking a closer look at how best to make [end-to-end encryption] available to everyone globally,” it said.
Nick Pickles, senior policy manager at Big Brother Watch, said: “Facebook has no time to waste convincing the public of the merits of the end-to-end encryption system it has been quietly developing for over a year.
“There is a growing alarm that Facebook will be able to access the personal data of every person using the app, putting people’s safety at risk.
“And at the least, people who use WhatsApp and Messenger will be understandably confused by the moves and be unhappy if they can’t set up and use the new encrypted messaging system.”
Facebook also said the features that would be required to implement end-to-end encryption would be introduced in order to make it safe for users to use the messenger app.
“We’ve tested encryption on a small number of devices and with small numbers of accounts. It is important to us that encryption is an acceptable user experience, so over the coming months we will introduce updates that make it even safer,” it said.