Facebook's Messenger instant messaging platform is now widely used by people, and even businesses, as a communication tool. Many users are uninhibited when they chat on Messenger and talk about sensitive topics with family and friends. Facebook wants to ensure these conversations remain absolutely private. The social media organisation has started testing out a new Secret Conversation function that uses technology developed by Open Whisper Systems, the company that created the renowned secure messaging app Signal. Here's what you need to know.
The Signal app, which is recommended by privacy advocate Edward Snowden, allows users to send end-to-end encrypted messages to each other. What Facebook has done is take the Signal Protocol, an open source protocol that is focused on offering strong encryption for asynchronous messaging systems, and created Secret Conversations, which is integrated into the Facebook Messenger mobile app.
Through Secret Conversations, Messenger users can start a chat that is fully encrypted. According to Facebook:
"That means the messages are intended just for you and the other person — not anyone else, including us. Within a secret conversation, you can also choose to set a timer to control the length of time each message you send remains visible within the conversation. Starting a secret conversation with someone is optional. That’s because many people want Messenger to work when you switch between devices, such as a tablet, desktop computer or phone. Secret conversations can only be read on one device and we recognize that experience may not be right for everyone. It’s also important to note that in secret conversations we don’t currently support rich content like GIFs and videos, making payments, or other popular Messenger features."
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has recently rolled out end-to-end encryption for all conversations by default. While Messenger isn't doing that for all chats that go through its app, Open Whisper Systems, which worked with Facebook to integrate the Signal protocol, still thinks this is a big step for the ubiquitous messaging service.
Secret Conversations is currently only available to a limited number of users for testing purposes and Facebook expects to do a wider rollout towards the end of the year.
Recently, encryption has become a hot topic as governments and law enforcement agencies around the world have started to fight against the technology. A number of technology companies, including Apple, have come out to support the use of encryption as a tool to protect user privacy.