Facebook is reportedly working on enabling encrypted video and audio calls in Messenger.
App researcher and enthusiast Jane Wong found out about the unreleased feature. They shared via Twitter a screenshot of a Secret Conversation with audio and video call icons on the top corner. It also says the calls will be "end-to-end encrypted across all your active mobile devices."
The encrypted video and audio call feature will be an extended capability of the secret conversations released in 2016.
Messages sent in "secret conversations" are end-to-end encrypted. It means that only the sender and the receiver have access to the messages. Not even Facebook can see them. Additionally, the messages will only be available on selected devices. Users can also set timers that will make the messages disappear after the indicated period.
The secret conversation feature of Messenger uses the same protocol as Signal, an open-source privacy-focused messaging app developed by Open Whisper Systems.
Facebook rolled out this feature to protect users when discussing private information, which may be related to health issues, illnesses, or when sending financial information. With the addition of encrypted audio and video calls, the feature will have more use cases.
However, it is still unclear if and when the extended capability of the secret conversation feature will be released.
Expected Resistance from Governments
Should Facebook enable end-to-end encrypted audio and video calls, they can expect opposition from various governments.
In an open letter, government officials from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia called on Facebook to stop their plans for end-to-end encryption across their messaging app.
According to them, "companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes." Law enforcement agencies fear that encryption of the messaging apps will prevent them from investigating illegal activities conducted via Facebook and similar apps.
However, Facebook frowned upon this proposal of governments to build backdoors in their apps. In a closed-door meeting with employees, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said: "We think it is the right thing to protect people's privacy more, so we will go defend that when the time is right."
A Privacy-Focused Approach
Facebook did not have a reputation for protective privacy services, so the company's turn to a privacy-focused approach made headlines. In a post by Zuckerberg, he explained his belief that "the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services." People will want a world where they can speak privately and live freely.
Their privacy-focused platform was built around seven principles—including private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability, and secure data storage.
Many believed this platform is a response to the revelation that Facebook let Cambridge Analytica, a British election consultancy, harvest the data of 87 million Facebook users.