Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook Reportedly Planning to Add Encryption to Messenger

Danny Yadron, the Guardian:

In the coming months, according to three people close to the project, the social media company plans to release an optional encrypted communications mode for its Messenger app, which is used by more than 900 million people. […]

Yet Facebook plans to make the tougher encryption an opt-in, because turning it on would get in the way of some new machine learning features it is building into Messenger, sources said. In May, Google faced blowback from privacy activists after it made a similar choice for its new Allo messaging app. […]

Google later confirmed to the Guardian that it made the extra privacy an opt-in feature because many of Allo’s smarts would no longer work if users turn on incognito mode, which prevents certain types of data from passing through Google’s servers.

For comparison, iMessage is encrypted end-to-end and there’s no way to turn that off. That’s not to say Apple couldn’t add similar functionality to Messages; if that’s something they’re planning, I expect that they would retain their existing prioritization of privacy and security.

Apple’s bet on assistive technologies so far is that they are able to interpret and suggest data locally, but one of the criticisms they’ve faced is that their implementation of these features is not as robust or as capable as their competitors’. For example, Google Photos includes auto-categorization and object detection features that some have doubted Apple can compete against, especially while retaining their locked-down approach to data sharing.

As I see it, there are three possible ways for Apple to compete with Google and Facebook in this area: process data locally, augment local operations with remote services, or decline to compete with the assumption that it’s a trend that will pass. My money is on the first method, but whether it will1 rise to the same level of accuracy, reliability, and predictability is a very good question.


  1. I do see it more as a question of will than can↩︎