Facebook Messenger has completed rolling out its new feature called “Secret Conversations”, which allows users to sent end-to-end encrypted messages. Best of all, you don’t need a PhD in computer science to know how to use it.
“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,” Facebook said in a blog post from July, when it was first testing out the feature.
The new feature means that no one, except the desired recipient, will be able to read the message (in theory). It essentially uses algorithms to “scramble” the message into nonsensical data. Only the intended recipient's device has the key to decode the message. The system was developed using the open source software "Signal Protocol" developed by Open Whisper.
It sounds complex, but Facebook has made it remarkably easy for users to access. Here’s how:
First of all, it’s worth noting that it only works on the Messenger smartphone application. Simply open up the app and click the plus symbol in the blue circle to start a new message. In the top right corner, you’ll notice a padlock. If you slide it over you’ll be able to send an encrypted message. You can also set it so the message deletes itself after a set time, à la Snapchat.
Encrypted messages aren't just for criminals and political whistleblowers. As seen above, sending private banking information is important to keep safe. Facebook/FB Newsroom
The feature is available to all billion Facebook users – just make sure you have the latest update for your Messenger app. This service is already available on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app.
As TechRepublic points out, encryption isn’t totally foolproof. For one, the recipient could screenshot the message. A user can also report an encrypted message to Facebook where it will be assessed, which suggests that Facebook does have some degree of access to the messages.
Nevertheless, many are heralding this a good move for cyber security and for bringing these issues into the mainstream.
“While this release does not enable end-to-end encryption for all conversations by default, like you'd find in WhatsApp or Signal, it's still a big step, and we hope that Messenger will continue to iterate on this deployment to make end-to-end encryption more pervasive throughout their product,” Open Whisper, who developed the system, said in a statement.