Meta tests stronger message encryption after abortion backlash

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Meta announced Thursday it is testing stronger encryption features for Facebook Messenger — just days after the company faced backlash for turning over a teenager’s private messages about her abortion to Nebraska police. 

As part of the new test, conversations for some users in Messenger will protected by a feature known as end-to-end encryption. That means the messages will only be visible to the people who sent or received them — not Meta itself. 

The feature, which Meta says will be the default for messages and calls in 2023, makes it far more difficult for law enforcement, hackers and other third parties to view users’ messages. 

If Facebook messages in the Nebraska abortion case had been end-to-end encrypted, Meta would not have been able to comply with a June search warrant that ultimately resulted in felony charges for a mother accused of helping her daughter receive an abortion.

According to court records obtained by The Post, the messages turned over by Meta showed the mother and daughter discussing plans for the daughter to take abortion pills and “burn the evidence.”

Jessica Kerr Burgess and her daughter Celeste were charged with felonies for performing a home abortion and disposing of the fetus after Facebook handed over private messages.
Court records
Meta handed over these chat logs to Nebraska police showing a mother and daughter discussing an abortion.

End-to-end encryption is already standard on Meta’s WhatsApp and had been in development for Messenger for years. Nonetheless, the curiously timed rollout of the latest test comes two days after a variety of privacy and pro-abortion groups condemned Meta and #DeleteFacebook trended on Twitter.

Jesse Lehrich, co-founder of antitrust group Accountable Tech, told The Post at the time that the Nebraska case shows that Meta’s popular products are being turned “into weapons that will be wielded against their own users.” 

Abortion protest
Meta’s compliance with the warrant was blasted by privacy and pro-abortion activists.
AP

In a Thursday blog post announcing the encryption test, Meta product management director Sara Su said the company is “working hard to protect your personal messages and calls.” 

“People want to trust that their online conversations with friends and family are private and secure,” Su said. 

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