Facebook has released a new feature for its popular Messenger app that allows users to encrypt their chats.
The feature, dubbed “Secret Conversations,” makes sure no one can read a message shared on Messenger except the two people on either end of a conversation. That means no prying eyes from Facebook or law enforcement.
The option also works across multiple devices. Facebook Messenger tells a user as much when they first enable Secret Conversations. As quoted by WIRED Magazine:
“Your messages are already secure, but Secret Conversations are encrypted from one device to another.”
Secret Conversations uses the Signal encryption scheme, the same mechanism developed by Open Whisper Systems which powers the the Signal Private Messenger encrypted chat app.
But unlike Signal or WhatsApp, Facebook’s other treasured messenger app that also encrypts users’ conversations, the newest versions of Messenger don’t come with Secret Conversations enabled by default. It’s an opt-in feature, meaning users must know specifically about Secret Conversations and the benefits of encryption to enable the feature.
That’s easier said than done. There’s no mention of an encrypted chat feature on the app’s iTunes Preview page. How are users supposed to find out about Secret Conversations if no one’s promoting it?
That type of set-up has drawn the ire of some in the security community, including ACLU technologist Chris Soghoian:
If it were up to the engineers at Facebook or Google, everything would be end to end encrypted by default. These decisions get made by execs
— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) July 8, 2016
If you are a Facebook Messenger user, make sure you enable Secret Conversations so that you and your friends can rest assured no one is covertly reading your messages. You should also tell your friends so that as many people as possible know about this feature.
But be warned. You must activate Secret Conversations on each and every conversation you want to encrypt. It doesn’t provide blanket protection like WhatsApp and Signal.
Be careful, and please help get the word out!