Facebook Shareholders The Latest Group To Ask Facebook To Drop Its Encryption Plans
from the but-the-biggest-shareholder-still-has-most-of-the-votes dept
Facebook is implementing end-to-end encryption in its Messenger service. This has made a number of government officials unhappy. Claiming this will lead to an increase in child sexual exploitation, multiple governments (including our own) have pounded their respective tables in Facebooks’ direction, demanding the company not give its users secure communications.
Now, it’s more than just government officials. The BBC reports some of Facebook’s shareholders have been swayed by the international table-pounding.
Investors at Facebook’s annual stockholder meeting will vote on a proposal to postpone the firm’s plans for end-to-end encryption.
The firm says it wants to make the measure the default option across its messaging platforms to protect privacy.
But activist shareholders say this would make it nearly impossible to detect child exploitation on Facebook.
The group wants the company to delay the move until after its board of directors studies the risk further.
The shareholders’ proposal [PDF] copy-pastes a lot of anti-encryption talking points about the supposed impossibility of tracking down users trafficking in child pornography. First, the proposal chastises Facebook for doing such a great job working with authorities to tackle the problem.
The New York Times reports Facebook Messenger was responsible for “nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of” CSAM in 2018…
Then it moves on to passing on threats from US legislators to backdoor encryption or otherwise regulate Facebook out of the encrypted communications market.
Facebook may face significant regulatory risk if it cannot curb child sexual abuse on existing platforms or on encrypted messaging. Senate Judiciary Committee member Marsha Blackburn stated in a December 2019 hearing that Facebook and peers need to “get your act together, or we will gladly get your act together for you.” Most of the Committee supported that sentiment.
The shareholders are asking for a delay until at least February of next year before implementation so the Board of Directors can compile a report on the negative aspects of implementing end-to-end encryption in Messenger. This demand confuses the issue, claiming this is about privacy rather than security.
Shareholders request that the Board of Directors issue a report by February 2021 assessing the risk of increased sexual exploitation of children as the Company develops and offers additional privacy tools such as end-to-end encryption.
While it’s true additional security measures will be a net benefit for users’ privacy, the key issue is the security of the communications, rather than ensuring Facebook isn’t able to see the content of users’ messages. Privacy has slider bars when it comes to users and their dealings with both Facebook and the government. Security either is or isn’t. It’s not something you can sort of have.
This table-pounding likely isn’t going to go anywhere. These shareholders are in the minority. Even if it was all of Facebook’s investors, Mark Zuckerberg still controls a majority of Facebook’s voting shares. Unless he can be talked out of it, the measure isn’t going to pass. And Zuckerberg appears to want Messenger to be as secure as WhatsApp — another frequent target of government outrage.
Encryption is coming to Messenger. And about the only thing that can stop it — or at least severely hamper it — is legislation like the EARN IT Act, which disingenuously targets both encryption and Section 230 immunity under the guise of protecting the children.