Facebook shareholders try to block encryption plan
Investors at Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting will vote on a proposal to defer the company’s plans for end-to-end encryption.
The company says it wants to make the measure the default option on all its messaging platforms to protect privacy.
But activist shareholders argue that this would make it almost impossible to detect the exploitation of minors on Facebook.
The group wants the company to delay the move until its board of directors investigates the risk further.
“As shareholders, we know that privacy is important for a social media company, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of triggering a new torrent of child sexual abuse that is virtually undetectable on Facebook,” said Michael Passoff, founder of Proxy Impact, a shareholder protection service to support the measure.
Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting for 2020 will take place virtually because of Covid-19, but investors will still be able to vote on the measures and learn about management plans.
Facebook claims to be a leader in the fight against the exploitation of minors on the Internet.
“As we expand end-to-end encryption to protect people’s private messages from hackers and criminals, we remain committed to leading our industry in protecting children,” he said.
The measurement is unlikely to pass.
Most of the company’s voting shares are controlled by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a small number of executives.
Plans for more encryption
In March 2019, Zuckerberg said he wanted the company to make end-to-end encryption the basic level of security for all its messaging services, including Facebook Messenger and Instagram. But it didn’t define a timeline and many engineers thought it would be several years before it happened.
The initiative would mean that messages – including text and images – are digitally encoded so that only the sender and the recipient can make sense of them, and not Facebook itself.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp already has this level of security.
The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have been among those who have lobbied Facebook to create a backdoor or other alternative solutions that would have given them access to messages to assist in criminal investigations. The company has so far refused to do so.
The measure proposed by Proxy Impact would force Facebook to examine whether something could be done to mitigate “the risk of an increase in the sexual exploitation of children”.
In 2019, tech companies reported nearly 70 million videos and images of children sexually exploited by the authorities. Almost 85% of these reports came from Facebook.
According to mr. Passoff, if the firm were to follow its encryption plans, 70% of the reported cases would become invisible to the firm.
For Facebook, it’s about balancing privacy and public safety.
In the past, users have expressed anger at Facebook’s use and protection of their personal data. End-to-end encryption should prevent criminals from accessing private conversations and help protect personal and financial data, assuming that users’ devices are not compromised.
It will also offer the company a defense against the responsibility of detecting and reporting criminal and terrorist activities, since it would no longer be able to read the messages in question.
Reputational risk for Facebook
Some investors in support of the measure argue that this could prove harmful to the company.
“Numerous disputes have eroded its reputational capital and put the company at risk for future competitive threats,” said Lisette Cooper, vice president of Fiduciary Trust International, who supports the vote.
“Facebook’s position as the world’s number one hub for online child sexual abuse material is not the marketing strategy you want for long-term success.”
However, Zuckerberg has already addressed the issue directly.
“When deciding whether to switch to end-to-end encryption between different apps, this was one of the things that weighed on me the most,” he said in October.
But he added that he is “optimistic” that predators can still be identified by other means, including their business models.