Encryption in instant messaging apps seems to be a big thing. One of the first mainstream apps to provide encryption in instant messaging was perhaps Telegram. Then recently WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption. Since WhatsApp is now owned by Facebook, it was but natural that Facebook Messenger would also sooner or later provide end-to-end encryption.
But unlike WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger won’t have encryption for everybody, it will have encryption only for those people who opt for it. Facebook will be releasing an “encrypted communications mode” for its Facebook Messenger app. Users will have a choice to deploy the end-to-end encryption module to make sure that neither can government authorities nor Facebook can make out what sort of messages you are exchanging with your other Facebook Messenger friends and contacts.
Why make it optional? This is because Facebook also wants to develop an artificial intelligence system based on the communication taking place between its more than 900 million Facebook Messenger users. You can easily imagine how much data can be gathered from these many people and the number of users is increasing in leaps and bounds. So if the messages are encrypted it means Facebook won’t be able to know what you’re talking about and if this happens, the company won’t be able to gather intelligence needed to develop various bots it is working on.
This is actually good. Privacy activists protest that it leaves people vulnerable if you give them the choice to either encrypt or not encrypt. People are not aware enough, the activists claim, to decide whether encryption is good for them or not. But this is a good way of introducing encryption in the messaging apps rather than introducing end-to-end encryption in one single sweep.
What does end-to-end encryption vis-à-vis instant messaging apps mean?
Your every contact has a unique encryption/decryption key. When you send someone a message and when you have opted for sending encrypted messages, the moment you have tapped on the send icon, the message at your end is encrypted using your key. By the time the message leaves your mobile phone, it is garbled and incomprehensible. When the message is received by your contact, using the same key the message is decrypted and shown to the contact. This is called end-to-end encryption.