Security

Facebook Messenger boosts privacy with end-to-end encryption, self-destructing messages

In a recent privacy push, Facebook announced that it was rolling out the beta of a new feature called 'secret conversations,' bringing better encryption and ephemeral messaging.

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Image: Facebook

Privacy-conscious Facebook users got a welcome surprise Friday, when the company announced that it was adding end-to-end encryption for private messages and a self-destruct timer for messages.

The feature is called "Secret Conversations," and it only allows a message to "be read on one device of the person you're communicating with," according to Facebook. Secret Conversations is initially rolling out in beta to a select group of users, and will block messages from being intercepted by anyone, including Facebook itself.

SEE: Network Security Policy Template (Tech Pro Research)

In addition to the beefed-up encryption, Facebook added a self-destruct feature for ephemeral messaging. Users can set a timer to control how long each message you send will remain visible to the recipient. This kind of self-destruct feature was initially made popular with the consumer app Snapchat, but has made its way into a host of enterprise apps like Confide and others. Messages in Secret Conversations can be set to last from five seconds to 24 hours.

Secret Conversations is completely optional. If you are considering enabling the feature, though, remember that messages will only work on one device. So, if you use Messenger across devices, and want to keep doing so, it might not be a good fit. Also, Secret Conversations doesn't currently support GIFs, videos, or payments.

While it's only in beta now, Secret Conversations will be rolling out publicly later this summer.

The move follows a similar one made by Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which opened up encryption to its more than one billion users in April. At last estimate, Facebook Messenger had around 900 million users on its platform.

SEE: How to use WhatsApp to send encrypted messages (TechRepublic)

Of course, Facebook and WhatsApp aren't alone in encrypting their platforms. Viber and Google's recently-announced Allo offer similar features, and Apple's iMessage has been usign encryption for a while.

According to Facebook, Secret Conversations was built on the Signal Protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems. It is the same protocol that powers WhatsApp and Google's Allo.

Encryption has moved to the forefront of conversations around tech and privacy since Apple refused to unlock an iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Apple CEO Tim Cook formally took a stand against the US government in what he deemed a violation of privacy, prompting other tech companies to lend their support, including Facebook. The company's move to bring encryption to essentially one billion more people is a hefty statement that Facebook is putting up their own strong fight for privacy.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Facebook Messenger is adding "Secret Messages," a new feature that brings end-to-end encryption and self-destructive messages to the platform.
  2. Secret Messages is in beta, doesn't support GIFs or payment in messages, and only allows messages to be read on a single device.
  3. Many tech giants have recently been embracing privacy tools in light of Apple's battle with the FBI, and Facebook's Secret Conversations shows that the company is taking big steps to promote the use of encryption.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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