Meta has rolled out new encryption technology for direct messages on Facebook and Instagram — despite protests from former employees who say the move has made it more difficult to track down online child predators.

Earlier this month, the social media giant enabled encryption for direct messages on Facebook and Instagram as a means to ensure privacy protections for users.

Encrypted messages block anyone except the sender and receiver from viewing the contents of the communication.

The launch came four years after it was initially announced — and the project had been a major bone of contention inside the company. Former engineering director David Erb resigned from Meta in 2019 in protest of the initiative, he told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview.

While at Meta — headed by 39-year-old Mark Zuckerberg — Erb expressed his concern to superiors that encrypting direct messages on Facebook would shield predators who preyed upon children.

Critics fear that would-be pedophiles can track down children through Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature, which offers suggestions of possible friends who can be added through an online social circle.

“It was a hundred times worse than any of us expected,” Erb told the Journal. “There were millions of pedophiles targeting tens of millions of children.”

Meta’s rollout of a new encryption technology for direct messaging on Facebook and Instagram has been criticized by ex-employees. REUTERS

In May 2020, Karl Quitter, a Chicago-area man, used an alias, “Mathew Jones,” to solicit sexually explicit photos and videos of at least nine teenage girls based in the Philippines via Facebook.

Quitter “preyed on the victims’ financial difficulties, using money transfers to the victims’ families to entice the girls to take the sexually explicit images,” according to federal prosecutors.

In a message to one 16-year-old victim in 2020, Quitter promised to send money to her family for medicine and food if she complied with his demands.

“If u do what I tell you … I will make sure u can buy food for 2 weeks and your medication,” Quitter said in the message. “Think of your little sister that she can e[a]t for 2 weeks everyday 3 meals a day and u get well.”

Facebook investigators flagged Quitter’s messages and turned them over to authorities, according to the Journal.

Quitter, 58, pleaded guilty in federal court to sexually exploiting children. He was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

A Department of Homeland Security investigator who was involved in the Quitter case told the Journal that Facebook’s “trust and safety team’s ability to access messages was instrumental” in bringing about an arrest.

Ex-employees have criticized Mark Zuckerberg’s firm for not doing enough to crack down on child predators online. AP

“A random stranger shouldn’t be able to — off of first contact — go to encrypted communications with a minor,” Brian Fitzgerald, the head of the Homeland Security’s Chicago office, told the Journal.

Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Meta, told The Post: “Former employees are entitled to their opinions, but not their own facts.”

“The truth is, while we’d long invested in child safety efforts, in 2018 we began work to restrict recommendations for potentially suspicious adults, continued ongoing efforts removing large groups of violating accounts and even supported a successful push to update the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reporting statute to cover many grooming situations, which previously had not been included,” Stone said in response to Erb’s claims.

In March 2022, 17-year-old Jordan DeMay of Michigan died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he fell victim to a “sextortion” plot allegedly hatched by three Nigerian men who used Instagram to solicit nude photos of him and other victims and then threatened to send the racy pics to his friends if he didn’t pay money.

A woman’s account had been hacked and sold to a Nigerian man who then used the profile to force young men to send him explicit images of themselves.

When DeMay didn’t have the money to satisfy the extortionists’ demands, they threatened to send the explicit images to his friends and family, according to authorities.

Last year, Jordan DeMay, 17, of Michigan died by suicide after he fell victim to a “sextortion” plot hatched by Nigerian men using Instagram. Courtesy DeMay family
Samuel Ogoshi (left) and his brother Samsoni Ogoshi (right) hacked a woman’s Instagram account and used it to solicit explicit photos of young men including DeMay as part of a “sextortion” plot, according to law enforcement officials.

DeMay told one of the Nigerian men that he would kill himself, it was alleged.

“Good. Do that fast. Or I’ll make you do it. I swear to God,” the man reportedly answered. Two of the men have been extradited to the United States to face charges. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

“If police hadn’t been able to get access to those messages, I might still be wondering why Jordan killed himself,” DeMay’s mother, Jennifer Buta, told the Journal.

“Encrypting messages on Instagram will create a breeding ground for people who can have access to our children thinking that ‘I’m never going to get caught.’”

Last year, a 15-year-old girl was lured from her California home by a 38-year-old man who solicited explicit photos of her through Instagram and then took her to Mexico.

Daniel Navarro was arrested.

He pleaded not guilty to enticing and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

Stone told The Post that the company has sought to minimize the risks posed by end-to-end encryption technology.

Meta has “spent years developing robust safety measures on Facebook and Instagram to prevent and combat abuse or unlawful activity,” Stone told The Post.

“We also offer many encryption-resilient tools to help keep teens safe” such as reporting suspicious instances to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Critics charge that encryption of direct messages will make it more difficult to catch child predators online. Getty Images/iStockphoto

“We routinely provide more reports to NCMEC than others, and given our ongoing investments, we expect that to continue,” Stone said.

Stone also denied a claim from a former Meta employee who told the Journal that the company declined to create exceptions to full encryption because it would require staffers to devote time and resources to dealing with potential red flags.

“The notion that the decision to encrypt or not encrypt messaging for teens was ultimately based on some type of cost saving is patently absurd,” Stone told The Post, adding that “it’s clear whoever believes that it did had no role in the decision to encrypt our services.”

Meta is parent company to WhatsApp, the world’s most popular encrypted messaging app.

But WhatsApp users communicate with people they know — unlike Facebook and Instagram, which allow strangers to find each other.

Meta’s top competitor in social media, TikTok, does not offer encrypted messaging services because the company said it “place[s] a premium on ensuring that our younger users have a safe experience.”

YouTube, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., disabled private messaging in 2019 because it wanted to “focus on improving public conversations.”