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What is end-to-end encryption?

What is end-to-end encryption (E2EE)?

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a security tool used to make sending and receiving messages, images or videos more private. Some social media platforms and messaging apps use E2EE to ensure messages, images and videos can only be seen by the people in that chat.  It works by encrypting or ‘scrambling’ the *data as it travels through a *server, to the other person:

Sender: Hi Alex! > Server: %&%^drkofdhp > Receiver: Hi Alex!

When E2EE is used, not even the platform itself (for example, WhatsApp or Meta) can see or get access to the messages, images or videos being sent between sender and receiver.

*Data = data is information that is stored and processed digitally and includes text, images, audio or video.

*Server = a computer that stores, receives and sends information (like online messages and emails).

What are the benefits and potential risks of E2EE?

E2EE can have benefits:

  • It can stop strangers, including hackers, from accessing your information
  • It allows companies to keep any sensitive information they hold about you, private
  • It allows you to have more control over who sees your  information, without relying on companies to keep information safe.

However, there are also potential risks to be aware of:

  • Users may try to hide inappropriate or abusive behaviour by asking you to move from public games and social media spaces into encrypted, private spaces. They might do this to groom, trick or force you to do things like sharing nude images
  • When E2EE is used, not even the platform itself (for example, WhatsApp or Meta) or Law Enforcement can see or access the messages,  images or videos being sent between sender and receiver. This can make it more difficult to detect and take action on inappropriate, abusive or illegal behaviours.

Safety tips for using platforms with end-to-end encryption

1. Decide what privacy settings you want to use. Our article on privacy settings can help you identify which ones are set as standard and which ones to adjust to improve your safety.

2. Know how to block and report on the platform. In E2EE spaces, the platform will not be able to recognise that you need help, unless you report it. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, stop all contact, block and report them.

3. If possible, keep the messages that concern you. Try not to delete messages in caseyou need to report inappropriate or abusive behaviour. Keeping messages on your phone or if you feel comfortable to do so, taking screenshots of your conversations will make it easier for the police and other agencies to take action against the individual and protect you.  If you have already deleted messages, there is still help out there for you and you should still seek help and support.

4. Get support when you need it. It’s never ok for someone to pressure you or make you feel uncomfortable in any messaging apps or online spaces. If you are concerned about online sexual abuse or grooming, this can be reported to CEOP. You can also find information on a range of help and support services on our support page.  

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