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Meta, formerly Facebook, announced plans Thursday to test a new secure storage feature for backups of users’ end-to-end encrypted chats on Messenger.
The announcement comes after Facebook turned over Messenger chat histories to Nebraska police as part of an investigation into an alleged illegal abortion. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said the feature has been in the works for a while and is not related to the Nebraska case.
End-to-end encryption ensures that two parties can chat securely by scrambling data so that messages can only be read by the sender and the recipient. The secure storage feature will allow users to back up end-to-end encrypted Messenger conversations in case they want to restore their message history on a new device.
Facebook will not have access to these messages, and users can create a PIN, generated code or use a third-party cloud service to restore their messages.
The feature is rolling out on Android and iOS devices this week, but it isn’t yet available on the Messenger website. Meta also announced plans to expand tests of end-to-end encrypted messages on Instagram.
“People want to trust that their online conversations with friends and family are private and secure,” Meta said in a release. “We’re working hard to protect your personal messages and calls with end-to-end encryption by default on Messenger and Instagram.”
The company has been discussing full-scale deployment of end-to-end encryption since 2016, but critics have said the security measure would make it much more difficult for law enforcement to catch child predators.
At a “Lawful Access Summit” hosted by the Department of Justice in 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Facebook would become a “dream come true for predators and child pornographers.”
Meta said in the release that it is making progress toward the global rollout of default end-to-end encryption for personal messages and calls in 2023.