Messenger's encrypted chats expand to more users ahead of full rollout later this year

The switch to secure chats forced Meta to 'redesign the entire system.'


Meta is considerably expanding Messenger's encryption feature, rolling it out to "millions more people's chats" starting today, the company announced. The end-to-end encryption (E2EE) standard, which first arrived a year ago, will be available as standard to all users by the end of 2023. Meta also described how it made the transition, calling it "an incredibly complex and challenging engineering puzzle."

The system keeps conversations safe from eavesdropping and interception using public key cryptography — meaning no one, even law enforcement, can access conversations. At the same time, your message history will also be encrypted. Meta first focused on WhatsApp, which now offers full E2EE, but Messenger will have the same level of protection by year's end.

Getting there wasn't easy though, apparently. "It quickly became apparent that transitioning our services to E2EE would be an incredibly complex and challenging engineering puzzle," the company wrote. "We not only needed to transition to a new server architecture but to rewrite our code base to work on multiple different devices, rather than just the server."

Citing an example of a rich preview from YouTube, Meta said its servers currently pull the URL data and then show the video preview in a Messenger chat. With E2EE, though, the app itself visits the shared URL, pulls the relevant image and text information, then sends it. That slows the process down a touch, but it means users still get a full feature set but with the privacy of encryption.

Meta said it's also testing on-device recovery for encrypted chats, requiring users to set up a PIN or generate a code. It's also trialing an option to save chats on cloud storage services like iCloud. Meanwhile, Meta will complete its E2EE trifecta by also enabling it for Instagram DMs by the end of 2023.

That will effectively catch the company up to services like Signal, bringing end-to-end encryption fully into the mainstream. It might also draw the ire of nations like Spain, which has advocated banning encryption within the European Union, ostensibly as a way to stop the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and other criminal activities.