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Facebook and End-to-End Encryption: What Are the Risks?

Facebook and End-to-End Encryption: What Are the Risks?

Facebook has been making headlines ever since it announced an update to its private messaging services. The social giant plans to roll out end-to-end encryption to improve user privacy, however, it is feared the new policy will hamper investigations into online child abuse. 

Warnings have come from several leading authorities, including the Home Office and the NSPCC

But, what is end-to-end encryption? Why is it needed? And how can it harm children and young people online? 

What is end-to-end encryption? 

End-to-end encryption is a form of digital communication where only those party to the conversation can read the messages. Essentially, this is the digital equivalent of shutting the door on nosy eavesdroppers.  

Facebook is deploying this new system to increase the privacy of its users and safeguard them against hackers and cybercriminals.  

How does it impact children’s online safety? 

Shutting the door on eavesdroppers is all well and good when it comes to adult security. However, in terms of children’s online safety, it is necessary for police to access private messages to learn of inappropriate conversations between adults and children online. 

Major tech firms currently utilise a range of tools to detect online grooming and child sexual abuse in private messages. However, end-to-end encryption will render these tools useless and the NSPCC warns that 70% of global child abuse reports will be lost if Messenger and Instagram adopt the new policy. The charity also revealed that, in incidences in which sexual or indecent images of children were recorded, over half took place on Facebook-owned apps

Home Secretary Priti Patel will tell an NSPCC-hosted event today that this encryption will “severely hamper” police’s efforts to protect children from online risks.  

Is there a solution? 

It has been reported that ministers are considering enforcing a special legal power called the technical capability notice to oblige Facebook to create special access for police to continue reviewing private messages. However, the Home Office has yet to confirm the accuracy of this claim.  

What does Facebook say? 

Facebook has defended their decision by assuring critics that safety features are already part of its plans for the new encryption. The social giant affirmed its commitment to developing new strategies for preventing, detecting, and responding to abuse online. 

The Open Rights Group has voiced its opposition to giving police special access to private messages, stating that treating all messages with the same level of surveillance is tantamount to assuming everyone is guilty of criminal activity. 

How can you and your children stay safe online? 

Ensure you and your children fully understand the risks present in the online world. Our online grooming guide presents methods and indications of grooming, as well as signposting available support, to enable you to learn how to protect your children from online predators.  

All our guides are regularly reviewed and updated to incorporate the latest changes in policies and laws. This will include our FacebookInstagram, and Facebook Messenger guides if/when the end-to-end encryption is rolled out. 

The topics of our guides encompass every aspect of digital activity, such as devices (e.g. XboxPlayStation, and Nintendo Switch), games (e.g. Fortnite and Call of Duty), and apps, (e.g, Snapchat, and TikTok). We also  

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