Facebook Messenger Grants Encryption, Self-Destructing Messages

Facebook Messenger Grants Encryption, Self-Destructing Messages

Facebook saw you slipping away from its messenger software, lured away by fancy features other messaging platforms had to offer and hence not surprisingly, Mr. Zuckerberg is acting in time to ensure customer retention. With a new announcement almost every week, this time Facebook Messenger has come up with End-to-End encryption and self-destructing messages to address your secrecy concerns.

Facebook elaborated how users have reached out to it asking for enhanced security. While its messenger and all of its conversations already use secure communication channels, the ones used by banks and e-commerce websites, this upgrade will take it to an all new level. The new end-to end encryption is supposed to be applicable on one-on-one conversations. Messages sent this way can only be viewed by two people — the sender and the intended recipient. They are coded, or encrypted, when being sent and can be decrypted only by the user you select while sending the message. Any third-party who might have gained access to the data packets cannot decrypt the message to read the content, not even Facebook itself.

The encryption will not be enabled by default, however; you will have to intentionally select the option to start a secret conversation. The feature may come in handy when you want to convey some really private information and need to ensure complete secrecy, for example when sharing confidential financial information with your accountant. It is essential to note that encrypted messages will only be viewable by the receiver on one designated device. Facebook acknowledges that some people might find this odd and for the sake of complete integration across devices, want the message to be synchronized on all devices owned by a user. It has nevertheless chosen to go with single-device encryption because it feels that it would be essential in maintaining a high level of privacy.

Facebook has also coupled an option that will cause the message to self-destruct after a certain length of time. You have an option to select a time period during which the message will be readable, and after which it will vanish — another feature, we feel that might actually be useful when discussing sensitive topics in confidence with a friend or business associate. Both the encryption and the self-destructing messages are for now limited to text only. For rich content such as videos and GIFs, you will have to switch to regular conversation. It’s a big deal though; the conversation is still secure, just not encrypted from end to end.

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Facebook’s Messenger uses the Signal protocol for encryption, an open source technology, developed by Open Whisper Systems. Advanced users who want to know more about the technology can see details in the Technical Whitepaper released by Facebook.

Typical of Facebook, it has currently launched the secure conversation feature only for a small percentage of users as a test group. The idea behind it is to gather input from them, go through their feedback to incorporate any suggestions they feel add value, and then roll out the improved final product to the general user base.

Facebook has recently demonstrated quite ambitious behavior with regards to its Messenger app. An update earlier this month incorporated SMS messaging, along with the instant messaging (IM) that it is known for. Speculators saw this as an attempt to become the go-to app for users for all their messaging needs, be it over carrier (SMS) or data (IM). It also tried to make its app more utility–bearing by offering chat bots that can serve as customer service representatives for small organizations. The ability to trigger payments and other run-of-the-mill banking transactions simply by sending an IM via Messenger caught attention of many. Seems nothing can stop the social media giant from taking over the Messaging world.

Statistics taken earlier this year reveal that Snapchat is rising fast in the ranks, beating WhatsApp and Messenger in the race for the most time spent by people using the app each day. Granted that Snapchat is primarily a video chat app, the underlying purpose of all of these is communication and the metric for success measurement is same as well i.e. time spent by customers. Competition was fast to react. Apple announced private messaging, with the likes of a ‘Touch to reveal message’ feature. Now Messenger’s announcement about self-destructing messages, a feature that many identify as the reason for Snapchat’s success. We feel it was more relevant to photos though and won’t mean the same if it is limited to text messages only. Nevertheless, let the trials begin!

Editing by Javeria Rahim;Graphics by Danish Raza

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