Facebook is coming under increasing pressure over its encryption plans after the NSPCC and 100 other organizations signed an open letter warning that more secure messaging could undermine child safety.
The social media giant is set to roll out end-to-end encryption for users of its Messenger and Instagram Direct services as part of efforts to improve user privacy and data protection.
However, encryption is often portrayed by governments and law enforcement as the bad guy, in protecting not only hundreds of millions of law-abiding users but also the small number who use it to hide criminal acts.
Child charities like the NSPCC agree, hence the open letter, which was also signed by Barnardo’s, 5Rights, the International Centre For Missing and Exploited Children and Child USA. It argues that encryption provides a safe space for pedophiles to operate online.
“We urge you to recognize and accept that an increased risk of child abuse being facilitated on or by Facebook is not a reasonable trade-off to make,” the letter reportedly said.
“Children should not be put in harm’s way either as a result of commercial decisions or design choices.”
The NSPCC claims that, according to FOI data obtained from UK police forces, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were used in child abuse image and online child sexual offences on average 11 times per day over a 12-month period to March 2019.
Despite the pressure from the UK government and children’s charities, it’s unlikely that Facebook will change its plans, given its renewed commitment to data protection and user privacy.
Jake Moore, cybersecurity expert at ESET, agreed with the social network’s decision to press ahead.
“Encryption is the backbone of the internet; without it, you lose all security. If you create a backdoor to encryption, you undermine the encryption entirely,” he argued.
“I think Facebook are right to secure their applications, which in fact protects users. Taking away encryption allows cyber-criminals to view sensitive data, which creates more problems in the long run. You could also argue that if Facebook was to allow access to its messaging platforms, many users could simply move to other more privacy-focused applications.”
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