Facebook Messenger starts rolling out ‘Secret Conversations’: Here’s what it means

Facebook Messenger's Secret Conversations, which introduces end-to-end encryption, has now started rolling out to some users

By: Tech Desk | Published:August 4, 2016 10:17 am
Facebook Messenger, Facebook Messenger app, Messenger, Messenger Secret Conversations, Facebook Messenger end-to-end encryption, Facebook Messenger Secret Chat, Secret Chat feature, Secret Chats on Facebook Messenger Facebook Messenger’s Secret Conversations has started rolling out to some users.

Facebook Messenger’s Secret Conversations, which introduces end-to-end encryption just like WhatsApp, has now started rolling out to some users, according to some reports. Unlike WhatsApp is which is end-to-end encrypted by default across the board, on Facebook Messenger only ‘Secret Conversations’ will have the security feature. However, all chats are encrypted on Messenger. Facebook announced it was working on the feature in July this year, and it appears some users on the beta app have spotted the same on their phones.

Facebook had said in July, the new Messenger feature will help “support conversations about sensitive topics.” The Facebook newsroom announcement read, “We’ve heard from you that there are times when you want additional safeguards — perhaps when discussing private information like an illness or a health issue with trusted friends and family, or sending financial information to an accountant. To enable you to do this we are starting to test the ability to create one-to-one secret conversations in Messenger that will be end-to-end encrypted and which can only be read on one device of the person you’re communicating with.

So how can you start a Secret Conversation on Facebook Messenger? A user will have tap on a friend’s name, and just above the below the Audio, Video call option, you should see the Secret Conversation if the update has rolled out to you. Once you tap on Secret Conversation, you can start an end-to-end encrypted chatting session, and also set a timer after which the message will get deleted. Note you might not be able to start a Secret Conversation with everyone, even if you have the update, because your friend might still not have the feature.

Facebook Messenger’s Secret Conversation will use the Signal Protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems for encryption, which is also the same one being used for WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption.

Facebook Messenger’s Secret Conversations will be similar to the Secret Chats feature on Telegram, where the ‘secret’ chat disappears after some time. End-to-end encryption means the messages are only stored on the two connecting devices and once they get deleted, they can’t be recovered. Facebook Messenger’s servers are not storing these messages, and they can’t be read by any third-party like cyber-criminals or even snooping governments.

Also read: Facebook Messenger to get end-to-end encryption: Here’s how it will work

Facebook Messenger’s “Secret conversations can only be read on one device,” reminds the company, whihch makes sense. So if you start a secret chat on Facebook Messenger on your desktop, then don’t expect to see them on your smartphone as well. The feature also doesn’t support “rich content like GIFs and videos, making payments, or other popular Messenger features.”

Facebook is currently gathering feedback about the functionality, performance, etc, which explains the limited rollout.

End-to-end encryption is the new buzzword with major messaging apps. Google too announced a new messaging app called Allo (which is yet to be launched) that will have an Incognito mode, which is end-to-end encrypted, and messages shared on this mode have a limited shelf life.

It should be noted that ‘disappearing messages’ per se does not mean end-to-end encryption. For instance, on Snapchat messages disappear after some time and while they are encrypted, they are not end-to-end encrypted, meaning they are stored on Snapchat’s servers for 30 days. While Snapchat says that “opened Snaps typically cannot be retrieved from Snapchat’s servers by anyone, for any reason,” users should note, this means their messages are getting sent to the company’s servers. In case of WhatsApp Messenger, the end-to-end encryption means the messages are not getting sent to the company’s servers at all, and can only be accessed from the device itself.

Then there’s Telegram, which also has a end-to-end encryption mode in ‘Secret Chats,’ where messages are also only available at the device level. However on Telegram, the rest of the chats in normal mode don’t have this level of encryption.

With Facebook Messenger now boasting of 1 billion users, the new ‘end-to-end encryption’ feature is a big update. Let us know if you can see the option in your phone.

 

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