With privacy becoming a prime concern of users in today’s internet-focused age, Facebook is finally taking the leap to introduce end-to-end encryption into its Messenger application. Last spring, the company added a layer of security for a billion users on WhatsApp and today it is giving the 900 million on its spin-off chat platform to catch up and enjoy their conversations privately.
After testing the feature in beta for a couple months, Facebook has today announced that it has finished rolling out the security feature it calls ‘Secret Conversations’. This feature has finally been introduced in the latest version of the app on Android and iOS, but both the participants will need to have it installed for this feature to work.
The end-to-end encryption feature, which should always be enabled by default, is actually opt-in and allows the users to flip the switch on the same from the settings menu. Once you’ve enabled secret conversations, it’ll allow you to encrypt all your messages in a one-on-one conversation. Except the two persons in the conversation, no one will be able to read the sent messages.
The encryption features are available only on personal chats, and haven’t been introduced in groups(which is a plus point for wildly popular WhatsApp). Also, it is being reported that you can start secret conversations from the device you started it on, you cannot continue the same on a new device or the web.
Now, how do you actually get to starting a Secret Conversation with your buddy? There are two ways to start an encrypted conversation.
In the first, you’ll need to select the person you wanna chat with and open the existing conversation. Now you’ll need to tap the ‘info’ icon on the top right and select the ‘Secret Conversation’ option from the list of settings available on that page. You’ll then be transferred to a new conversation page that’ll sport a black menu bar.
Using the second method, you’ll have the choice to start an encrypted conversation with any of your contacts. For starters, tap the ‘bright blue’ new conversation button on the bottom right and then hit the ‘lock’ or ‘secret’ toggle on the top right before selecting the contact you wanna secretly converse with. The menu bar will again turn black to depict that you’re starting a secret chat.
In the secret conversation window(shown above), you’ll also have the option to choose expiration time for messages, ranging from a minimum of 5 seconds to a whole day. This is slightly similar to Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging feature, and almost exactly like ‘incognito’ messaging on Google’s recently launched Allo. It currently, however, hasn’t ported over support rich content like GIFs and videos, or other popular Messenger features in the encrypted chats.
Messenger’s secret conversation feature makes use of the Signal encryption system, that has been developed by the non-profit Open Whisper Systems. And if you were thinking why does an user need to opt-in instead of the feature being enabled by default, then Andy Greenberg of WIRED has an answer for you. He writes that the decision to opt-in is a compromise on part of Facebook, who wants to dodge any legal and political difficulties. It is already in a tight spot in terms of privacy features of its other messaging app, WhatsApp in India and Brazil.
So, if you’re a security and privacy maniac, then you can now enjoy encrypted chats within your favorite chat application from Facebook. And don’t forget to opt-in before the start of a secret conversation.