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End-to-end encryption is coming to Facebook Messenger

Facebook joins a host of other messaging services offering end-to-end encryption. You just have to remember to turn it on

Emma Boyle
Friday 08 July 2016 16:00
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Messages you send on Facebook will soon have extra protection from snooping third parties with a new end-to-end encryption feature called “secret conversations.”

A conversation that’s been encrypted can only be read by the sender and the receiver, preventing law enforcement or even Facebook itself from being able to intercept it.

Secret conversations won’t immediately be available to everyone – instead Facebook says it's planning to roll it out to a small number of users for beta testing before making it available to all Facebook Messenger users later in the summer.

It doesn’t seem like such a long time ago that message encryption was a topic of little interest but with people increasingly concerned with online privacy and surveillance, interest in encryption software has soared and Facebook is joining a host of other messaging apps using it to give their users peace of mind.

Messaging service WhatsApp, which is actually owned by Facebook, started using end-to-end encryption in April. Apple also uses the software in its iMessages and even Google announced that its new messaging app Allo would have an end-to-end encryption option available.

Where Facebook will differ from WhatsApp is in the fact that the encryption feature is opt-in rather than applied as a default. This means that the messages you send will only be encrypted when you manually activate the secret conversations option.

Secret conversations will only work on one device so you’ll have to decide which one and it also won’t support rich content such as GIFs, videos, or payments, though this could change in the future.

In addition to encrypting your messages, secret conversation mode will also give you the option to set a self-destruct timer on specific messages in a conversation just for that extra ephemerality.

Facebook Messenger has over 900 million active monthly users making this a huge step for global user privacy. It’s especially timely in terms of user perception that Facebook is rolling out the feature now, too, since it has recently faced criticism from privacy watchdogs over user tracking.

Besides this, as public concern over privacy online grows, it’s essential that Facebook offers encryption in some form if it hopes to remain a messaging platform of choice.

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