Facebook has delayed the rollout of encrypted messages amid concerns that such a move could put children at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Meta, which also owns the social networking giant WhatApp, said it was taking time to “get this right” and pledged to work on balancing privacy and security online.
The company previously said it aims to roll out encrypted messages to its Messenger and Instagram apps at some point in 2022, but has now said it won’t be completed until 2023.
End-to-end encryption hides messages from everyone but those in a conversation, and has previously sparked warnings that it threatens children’s online safety.
Antigone Davis, Meta’s head of safety, said he would continue to work with experts to address the breaches, but insisted that in previous cases the company was still in a position to help authorities despite the services being encrypted.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, she said: “Our recent review of some historical cases showed that we are still able to provide critical information to authorities, even if these services are end-to-end encrypted.
Although there are no perfect systems, this shows that we can continue to stop criminals and support law enforcement.
“We will continue to engage with outside experts and develop effective anti-abuse solutions because our work in this space is never done. We are taking our time to correct this and do not plan to end the global rollout of end-to-end encryption virtually across all of our messaging services until sometime in 2023.” .
The social network’s other messaging system, WhatsApp, is already fully encrypted.
Last year, England’s Children’s Commissioner Ann Longfield said plans by social media companies for more encryption in messaging services would put children at greater risk by making it impossible for platforms to monitor content and preventing police from collecting potentially vital evidence of child sex. Exploit.
Facebook’s encryption plans have also been criticized by the government, with Home Secretary Priti Patel warning that it puts children at risk and provides a hiding place for abusers and other criminals.
Ms Davis said the company was “intent on protecting people’s private communications and keeping them safe online”, but added that “people shouldn’t have to choose between privacy and security”.
She added that the company is “building strong safety measures into our plans and collaborating with privacy and safety experts, civil society and governments to make sure we get it right.”
The company outlined its “3D approach” which it said includes preventing harm, giving people more control, and responding quickly if something happens.
It comes a day after news emerged that the chief of Ofcom had asked social media companies to face penalties if they did not prevent adults from sending direct messages to children.
The telecoms watchdog will regulate the sector under the Internet torts Act and has the power to fine companies and block access to websites.
The Times reports that Ms Melanie Dawes will encourage the regulator to closely examine direct messages when the new regulations are introduced in 2023.
Speaking about the industry and the bill, Ms. Melanie said: “I don’t think it’s sustainable for them to continue as we are. Something has to change.”
“What regulation does offer is a way to achieve consistency across the industry, to convince users that they are putting things right, and to prevent what could be a real erosion of public trust.
“They really need to convince us that they understand who is actually using their platform, that they are designing for the reality of their users and not just the older age group they all say they have on their terms and conditions.”
In her article, written before Ms Melanie’s comments, Ms Davis said Facebook had been protecting people under 18 on its site with measures that included putting them by default in private or “friends only” accounts and restricting adults from messaging them if they weren’t already online.
Proposals in the online damages bill include penalties for non-compliant companies, such as hefty fines of up to £18m or 10% of their global sales – whichever is higher.
In August, Instagram announced that it would require all users to provide their date of birth, while Google introduced a range of privacy changes for children who use the search engine and YouTube platform.
TikTok has also begun to limit the direct messaging capabilities of accounts for people aged 16-17, as well as offering advice to parents and caregivers on how to support teens when they sign up.
Andy Burroughs, Head of Child Online Safety Policy at the NSPCC, said: “Facebook is right not to move forward with end-to-end encryption until it has an adequate plan in place to prevent child abuse from being detected on its platforms. But they must move forward with these measures. Only when they can demonstrate that they have the technology in place that ensures that children are not at greater risk of abuse.
“More than 18 months after a global coalition of 130 child protection organizations led by the NSPCC raised the alarm about the danger of end-to-end encryption, Facebook must now show that they are serious about child safety risks and not just play time as they grapple with challenging headlines.” .