Instagram appears to be entering the final stages of its controversial plan to encrypt messages on its platform.
Screenshot shared online Tuesday showed a screenshot of the new feature in operation on the Instagram account in India.
Some users in the South Asian country can now activate end-to-end encryption in their IG Direct chats as part of ongoing tests.
The change, expected to be fully rolled out next year, hides messages so that only the sender and receiver can read them.
Even Meta, the company that owns Instagram, is banned from viewing the content of people’s chats.
It’s a move that some saw as a victory for user privacy while cops called it “free pass” for scammers.
That’s because encryption will prevent security services from accessing anyone’s messages.
Meta announced the expansion of its comprehensive crypto-testing last month.
“Last year, we started a limited test of end-to-end encrypted messages and calls on Instagram, and in February we extended testing to adults in Ukraine and Russia,” the company said.
“Soon, we will expand testing even further to include people in more countries and add more features such as group chats.”
The company recently postponed its plans to roll out encryption until 2023 after child safety activists warned that its proposals would protect child abusers from detection.
The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said private messages are “the front line of online child sexual abuse”.
Messages sent on WhatsApp owned by Meta are already encrypted and the feature is optional on Facebook Messenger.
However, the privacy tool is not available to everyone on Instagram yet.
In 2019, the company pledged to “integrate” the behind-the-scenes messaging technology that powers Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.
The idea is that users will message each other across their platforms. A WhatsApp user can chat seamlessly with an Instagrammer, for example.
This could also mean that messages sent on all platforms are encrypted – rather than just WhatsApp.
End-to-end encryption means that your message is distorted into nonsense during transmission, and can only be read in its true form by both the sender and the recipient.
That’s because the contacts participating in the chat have a “key” that decrypts the message.
Anyone else (including Meta) is unable to read the ciphertext.
It is an important privacy feature, and indeed one of the distinguishing features of WhatsApp.
Last year, Ken McCallum, the head of MI5, criticized Meta Crypto’s plans to give what he said was a file Free traffic for criminals.
McCallum explained during an interview on Radio Times.
He warned that Meta President Mark Zuckerberg was creating digital living rooms that could be exploited.
“Our job is to deal with a case of one in a million, where the living room is a living room for terrorists,” said the intelligence chief.
McCallum continued: “If you have virtual end-to-end encryption with absolutely no way to decrypt that encryption.
“You’re actually giving these rare people — the terrorists or the people who organize online child sexual abuse, some of the worst people in our community — a free pass.
“Where they know no one can see what they’re doing in these private living rooms.”
In response, a Meta spokesperson said the company “does not tolerate” terrorism or child exploitation on its platforms.
They added that safety measures such as tracking behavioral patterns and user reports will be used to combat such violations.
In 2020, the United States joined the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada in a call to grant local law enforcement access to cryptographic backdoors.
This will allow the police to view encrypted messages and files if a court order is issued.
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