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Meta delays Facebook and Instagram’s encrypted messaging rollout until 2023

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Credit: Jirapong Manustrong / Shutterstock

“We’re taking our time to get this right,” Meta’s global head of safety wrote.

Facebook and Instagram users anticipating the rollout of Meta’s enhanced encryption features will have to wait at least one more year for the comfort of added safety, it seems.

The company confirmed, in a bit of a roundabout way, a delay for message encryption on Facebook and Instagram until “sometime in 2023.” Antigone Davis, the global head of safety for Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) revealed the delay along with the 2023 timetable in a Saturday opinion piece penned for the UK paper, The Telegraph.

“At Meta…we know people expect us to use the most secure technology available which is why all of the personal messages you send on WhatsApp are already end-to-end encrypted and why we’re working to make it the default across the rest of our apps,” Davis wrote.

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The problem, Davis noted, is the challenge of getting a feature right that offers users protection and privacy while also deterring illegal or harmful behavior on the platform. “There’s an ongoing debate about how tech companies can continue to combat abuse and support the vital work of law enforcement if we can’t access your messages.” So, she said, Meta is taking its time and gathering insights from “privacy and safety experts, civil society and governments to make sure we get things right.”

Much of the post that follows is Davis laying out what she describes as Meta’s “three-pronged approach” to ensuring user safety on its various platforms, though none of those prongs mention end-to-end message encryption. She gets back to that topic toward the end of the post, returning again to the tension between users’ desire for absolute privacy and the company’s need to protect users (and let’s be clear, itself as well) when behavior crosses legal lines.

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“As we roll out end-to-end encryption we will use a combination of non-encrypted data across our apps, account information and reports from users to keep them safe in a privacy-protected way while assisting public safety efforts,” Davis wrote. This is the same basic strategy the company already employs with WhatsApp, which does off end-to-end encryption.

The thrust of the news is a delay for the feature’s rollout on Facebook and Instagram, until sometime in 2023. But there’s plenty of reason to question Meta’s motives with a post like this, given the company’s track record (both recent and long-term).

The latest in an ongoing series of damning deep dives behind the scenes of Facebook operations surfaced on Sunday in a Washington Post story bearing the headline “Facebook’s race-blind policies around hate speech came at the expense of Black users, new documents show.” Building on earlier reporting, the paper notes that some Facebook executives pushed back on a suggested “aggressive overhaul” of Facebook’s software that would prioritize scrubbing hateful posts directed at minority groups before other users could see them.

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The specifics of the report are a bit murky in terms of what’s new versus what’s been in the news before. But the headline and the overarching takeaway, that Facebook’s “race-blind” approach to hate speech negatively impacted Black users, add yet more texture to Meta’s ongoing PR nightmare.

Assuming the Washington Post reporters did their due diligence and sought comment from the source, Meta knew this story was coming ahead of time. Is it a coincidence that Davis’s Telegraph post and the news it contains published exactly 12 hours before the WaPo report on Sunday? That’s definitely possible, even likely. But there’s a non-zero chance it was also a move designed to shift what kinds of conversations people would have about Facebook and Meta on Sunday.

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To be clear, imputing any kind of ulterior intent into the reveal of Meta’s end-to-end encryption delay is an act of wild speculation. But that’s where we’re at with that company these days. Facebook, now Meta, has been less than honest with the public again and again and again. That can only happen so many times before we have to start questioning the motivation behind any decision, especially in cases like this. So sure, end-to-end encryption is delayed. But you should take the time to read that Washington Post story too, and maybe get a better understanding of how user safety perhaps doesn’t always come first at Meta.

First seen at: Mashable

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Updates to Section 7 of the Developer Policies – Facebook Gaming Policies

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We have updated Section 7 of the Developer Policies effective immediately. No change is required from the developers’ end, only awareness about these changes.

As part of our continuous focus on improving developers’ experience, we have made some updates to the Section 7 of the Developer Policies which covers all Facebook Gaming Products, such as Web Games on Facebook.com, Instant Games and Cloud Games. As part of this update we have removed outdated policies, and streamlined the language and structure of Section 7 to better reflect the existing state of our Facebook Gaming Products. We have also reorganized some policies under the Quality Guidelines. These updates do not introduce any product change, nor do they include any new requirements for developers.

Please review the updated Section 7 to familiarize yourself with the updated content structure.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Creating Apps with App Use Cases

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With the goal of making Meta’s app creation process easier for developers to create and customize their apps, we are announcing the rollout of an updated process using App Use Cases instead of the former product-focused process. App Use Cases will enable developers to quickly create apps by selecting the use case that best represents their reason for creating an app.

Currently, the product-focused app creation process requires developers to select an app type and individually request permission to API endpoints. After listening to feedback from developers saying this process was, at times, confusing and difficult to navigate, we’re updating our approach that’s based on App Use Cases. With App Use Cases, user permissions and features will be bundled with each use case so developers can now confidently select the right data access for their needs. This change sets developers up for success to create their app and navigate app review, ensuring they only get the exact data access they need to accomplish their goals.

Starting today Facebook Login will be the first use case to become available to developers. This will be the first of many use cases that will be built into the app creation process that will roll out continually in 2023. For more information please reference our Facebook Login documentation.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Understanding Authorization Tokens and Access for the WhatsApp Business Platform

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The WhatsApp Business Platform makes it easy to send WhatsApp messages to your customers and automate replies. Here, we’ll explore authentication using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta.

We’ll start with generating and using a temporary access token and then replace it with a permanent access token. This tutorial assumes you’re building a server-side application and won’t need additional steps to keep your WhatsApp application secrets securely stored.

Managing Access and Authorization Tokens

First, let’s review how to manage authorization tokens and safely access the API.

Prerequisites

Start by making sure you have a developer account on Meta for Developers. You’ll also need WhatsApp installed on a mobile device to send test messages to.

Creating an App

Before you can authenticate, you’ll need an application to authenticate you.

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Once you’re signed in, you see the Meta for Developers App Dashboard. Click Create App to get started.

Next, you’ll need to choose an app type. Choose Business.

After that, enter a display name for your application. If you have a business account to link to your app, select it. If not, don’t worry. The Meta for Developers platform creates a test business account you can use to experiment with the API. When done, click Create App.

Then, you’ll need to add products to your app. Scroll down until you see WhatsApp and click the Set up button:

Finally, choose an existing Meta Business Account or ask the platform to create a new one and click Continue:

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And with that, your app is created and ready to use. You’re automatically directed to the app’s dashboard.

Note that you have a temporary access token. For security reasons, the token expires in less than 24 hours. However, you can use it for now to test accessing the API. Later, we’ll cover how to generate a permanent access token that your server applications can use. Also, note your app’s phone number ID because you’ll need it soon.

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Click the dropdown under the To field, and then click Manage phone number list.

In the popup that appears, enter the phone number of a WhatsApp account to send test messages to.

Then, scroll further down the dashboard page and you’ll see an example curl call that looks similar to this:

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curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Note that the Meta for Developers platform inserts your app’s phone number ID and access token instead of the and placeholders shown above. If you have curl installed, paste the command into your terminal and run it. You should receive a “hello world” message in WhatsApp on your test device.

If you’d prefer, you can convert the curl request into an HTTP request in your programming language by simply creating a POST request that sets the Authorization and Content-Type headers as shown above, including the JSON payload in the request body.

Since this post is about authentication, let’s focus on that. Notice that you’ve included your app’s access token in the Authorization header. For any request to the API, you must set the Authorization header to Bearer .

Remember that you must use your token instead of the placeholder. Using bearer tokens will be familiar if you’ve worked with JWT or OAuth2 tokens before. If you’ve never seen one before, a bearer token is essentially a random secret string that you, as the bearer of the token, can present to an API to prove you’re allowed to access it.

Failure to include this header causes the API to return a 401 Unauthorized response code.

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Creating a Permanent Access Token

Knowing that you need to use a bearer token in the Authorization header of an HTTP request is helpful, but it’s not enough. The only access token you’ve seen so far is temporary. Chances are that you want your app to access the API for more than 24 hours, so you need to generate a longer-lasting access token.

Fortunately, the Meta for Developers platform makes this easy. All you need to do is add a System User to your business account to obtain an access token you can use to continue accessing the API. To create a system user, do the following:

  • Go to Business Settings.

  • Select the business account your app is associated with.
  • Below Users, click System Users.
  • Click Add.
  • Name the system user, choose Admin as the user role, and click Create System User.
  • Select the whatsapp_business_messaging permission.
  • Click Generate New Token.
  • Copy and save your token.

Your access token is a random string of letters and numbers. Now, try re-running the earlier request using the token you just created instead of the temporary one:

curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Your test device should receive a second hello message sent via the API.

Best Practices for Managing Access Tokens

It’s important to remember that you should never embed an App Access Token in a mobile or desktop application. These tokens are only for use in server-side applications that communicate with the API. Safeguard them the same way you would any other application secrets, like your database credentials, as anyone with your token has access to the API as your business.

If your application runs on a cloud services provider like AWS, Azure, GCP, or others, those platforms have tools to securely store app secrets. Alternatively there are freely-available secret stores like Vault or Conjur. While any of these options may work for you, it’s important to evaluate your options and choose what works best for your setup. At the very least, consider storing access tokens in environment variables and not in a database or a file where they’re easy to find during a data breach.

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Conclusion

In this post, you learned how to create a Meta for Developers app that leverages the WhatsApp Business Platform. You now know how the Cloud API’s bearer access tokens work, how to send an access token using an HTTP authorization header, and what happens if you send an invalid access token. You also understand the importance of keeping your access tokens safe since an access token allows an application to access a business’ WhatsApp messaging capabilities.

Why not try using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta if you’re considering building an app for your business to manage WhatsApp messaging? Now that you know how to obtain and use access tokens, you can use them to access any endpoint in the API.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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