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Facebook might start encrypting all your chats

Photo illustration (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic).

Photo illustration (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic).

Facebook Messenger, a chat service that has more than 900 million users, is going to get end-to-end encryption later this year, according to a new report. However, it's not the kind of end-to-end encryption available on iMessage or WhatsApp, where all chats are fully encrypted by default. Instead, Facebook will make the privacy-enhancing feature an opt-in, taking a page out of Google's Allo smart chat product.

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Announced a few weeks ago at Google I/O, Allo is a chat that's constantly being read by Google's AI. The assistant can make suggestions, perform searches, and offer you a smarter chat experience. The drawback is that Google can't offer you both an in-chat smart bot and end-to-end encryption. If you want the latter, then you have to go incognito and continue chatting without having access to any smart features.

According to a report from The Guardian, Facebook Messenger users will be presented with the same choice later this year, when Facebook will roll out end-to-end encryption to its Messenger app as an opt-in feature.

The company did not confirm or deny these plans, but it makes sense to see Facebook looking to compete with Google in such a manner.

With end-to-end encryption turned on, only the people on either side of the line can decrypt messages, which means neither Facebook nor authorities would be able to decipher them. If users want AI overseeing their interactions, then chats will be encrypted only during transit, but not end-to-end.

According to The Guardian, engineers at both Google and Facebook predict that users will accept the trade-off, and favor a smarter messaging chat than a more private one.

Not everyone agrees, though, "I just object to the opt-in default for what could be millions of users as they discuss politics, their love life, health concerns, and other topics meant to be private," Open Crypto Audit Project co-director and researcher Kenneth White said.