Facebook Messenger is one of the most widely-used messaging apps on the planet. In the beginning, Messenger used to be a competent subsection of the mother ship — Facebook. Now, Facebook has gone ahead and turned it into a standalone application. Irrespective of the OS — Android or iOS — you are on, you will need to install Facebook Messenger to reply to the texts people send you on Facebook.
Before deep-diving into Messenger, you’re right to be curious about its security and privacy policies, enquire about the measures it takes to ensure your private conversations remain private. Today, we’ll take a look at the gold standard of privacy — End-to-End Encryption — and tell you whether Facebook Messenger implements it.
What is End-to-End Encryption?
End-to-End Encryption or E2EE is the industry-leading encryption protocol, which ensures that no one, other than the intended parties, is able to decode the messages that are transmitted. The app developers, your ISP, and even the government is kept out of the loop and won’t be able to decode the messages you exchange.
Related: Why do you need E2EE?
How does End-to-End Encryption work?
Behind such robust performance is a rather simple philosophy, which would make you wonder why it’s not used on all the messenger apps we see.
E2EE uses only two keys — Public Key and Private Key — to achieve its bulletproof status. The Public Key, as the name suggests, is visible to the public and is used to encrypt a message for safe transportation. To decrypt the message, you’d need the matching private key, which, of course, isn’t common knowledge.
Example: If you send a message to user A, your message would be encrypted using A’s Public Key. When the message is delivered to A, the E2EE-powered application would decrypt the message using A’s private key. Similarly, when A sends a message to you, the message would be encrypted using your Public Key and can only be decrypted using your Private Key.
Does Facebook Messenger have End-To-End Encryption?
In March 2019, Facebook chief, Mark Zuckerberg promised that his services would all apply E2EE to all forms of user communications. It’s been over a year since that pledge, and we are far from seeing it take shape.
So, as things stand, Facebook Messenger does not use E2EE as its default encryption protocol. However, it does offer a separate space for super private, “Secret” conversations, which uses the super safe End-to-End Encryption.
What is Secret Conversation?
As mentioned, Secret conversation is a separate room under Facebook Messenger that makes use of the robust End-to-End Encryption protocol. You can start a Secret conversation with any of your Facebook friends, but you can neither make a group nor call/video chat with them.
How to start a Secret Conversation with a Facebook friend?
You can start a Secret Conversation with someone in one of the two following ways.
Through the ‘Chats’ window
This will allow you to start a Secret Conversation with a Facebook contact in a matter of minutes, but the toggle isn’t that easy to spot.
To start a Secret Conversation, first, fire up the Facebook Messenger app, which would lead you straight to the ‘Inbox’ window. Now, tap on the pencil icon — New message — at the top-right corner of the window.
When the ‘New message’ window opens, hit the lock toggle to enter the space for Secret Conversations.
Tap on any contact to start a secret conversation with them.
Through an ongoing chat
Have something super-private to share? Something that seems inappropriate for a casual Messenger chat? Don’t be shy to start a Secret Conversation from the chat window.
To start a Secret Conversation from an active chat window, first, tap on the ‘i’ icon at the top-right corner of the chat window.
Once there, scroll down and tap on ‘Go to Secret Conversation.’
If you’ve already had a secret chat with them, the previous messages would be shown there. Else, a new chatting session would commence.
How to automatically delete your messages in a Secret Conversation?
There are a couple of big limitations to Secret Conversations — no video calling and group messaging. However, there’s also one nifty feature that could be a lifesaver for many.
Messenger’s Secret Conversations come with auto-deletion, which means that your messages will be automatically deleted after they’ve been read by the recipient. You can set the timer, too, of course, picking anywhere between 5 seconds and 1 day.
To set a timer and make your messages disappear after a certain time, all you have to do is go to a Secret Conversation and tap on the little clock icon.
The different timer options will pop up right below.
Alternatives with End-to-End Encryption
If Messenger’s Secret Conversation seems a bit too much, you could opt for apps that come use E2EE as their default encryption protocol.
Facebook’s very own messaging and Voice over IP service, WhatsApp, offers E2EE encryption to all forms of communication — texts, voice calls, and video calls. There’s no auto-deletion feature, sadly, but the video and voice calling options are certainly lucrative.
Thanks to E2EE, WhatsApp has become one of the most secure messaging apps. However, if you’re looking for a more private experience, where even your metadata isn’t stored on cloud, you should take a look at Signal.
Signal is an open-source, secure messaging app that prioritizes your privacy over everything else. It comes with voice and video calling like WhatsApp and even flaunts the auto-deletion feature.
Signal, however, isn’t the most user-friendly app out there and lacks some of the features that you might find on WhatsApp.