Facebook trials end-to-end encryption for Messenger

by Linda Olson July 11, 2016, 11:32

"Starting a secret conversation with someone is optional", it said.

"Facebook will never have access to plain text messages unless one participant in a secret conversation voluntarily reports the conversation", the company explained in a technical document.

Since mid-2014, the Facebook Messenger app has done quite well in catching up with competitors having added a string of features to the service, including the ability to send money to friends, pull up a voice or video call and even order a private vehicle from inside the app.

Messenger's secret conversations rely on technology from Open Whisper Systems, which also makes the free end-to-end encrypted messaging and voice call app Signal.

"The fact that we have 1.65 billion people on Facebook already makes Messenger the best live, self-updating address book in the world", Messenger's head honcho David Marcus said in an interview.

Facebook Messenger just added end to end encryption as an option.

If you are one of the lucky users to get secret conversations we look at how to use it and any limitations that it has.

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Users also will be able to set a timer to control how long the message remains visible to anyone, the company said Friday.

At launch, secret conversations will be opt-in.

With the new feature, Facebook Messenger's 900 million users can choose to encrypt specific conversations so that the messages can only be read on one specific device.

The white paper also notes that each secret conversation will generate metadata like "delivery and read receipts", which is not end-to-end encrypted and won't contain message plaintext. Basically, users can send sensitive information to friends or family members and the message would be deleted after a few seconds if they want.

Meanwhile, Matthew Green, an assistant professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, who was invited by Facebook to review its end-to-end encryption effort, said he would like to see the feature turned on by default but agreed that this would be a challenge.

Law enforcement agencies have advocated adamantly during the previous year against end-to-end encryption, especially in the wake of the December terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, where digital security measures taken by slain shooter Syed Farook prevented authorities from easily accessing evidence from his Apple iPhone.

You also won't be able to access other Facebook Messenger features, like payments, chatbots and a backup of your chats.

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