Facebook today unveiled the secret Messenger conversations, in response to growing concerns about our privacy.
Last March the vice president of Facebook Latinoamrica was detained by the Brazilian police. His alleged crime, not helping the justice to capture alleged drug traffickers.
Then it was discovered that what the police wanted was access to WhatsApp conversations, although that app is independent of Facebook (even if it is its property), something that the company cannot give even if it wants thanks to the point-to-point encryption that WhatsApp has from a few months ago.
Messenger is now more secure
This incident was a reminder that security in chat apps works; Maybe not as well as we like sometimes, but at least if the developers do a good job, getting conversations from their users is quite difficult.
So it’s fitting that Facebook has now gone a step further in instant messenger security with the new secret Messenger conversations, that will be available to all users of the app in the coming months; at the moment, only a few users have access to the new functionality.
The main change is something that all apps should already have: point-to-point encryption. That means that our messages will already come encrypted from our device, and that, although they will pass through the Facebook servers, it will not save or decrypt them at any time, basically because it cannot, since only the interlocutors have the encryption key.
How to use secret Messenger conversations
This is something that WhatsApp already had, but the implementation varies in a very curious detail: while in WhatsApp all conversations are encrypted by default, to encrypt a conversation in Messenger we will have to activate the functionality manually. To do this we have to tap on the other user’s name and select secret conversation, a new option that will only appear if we both belong to the test group.
The difference is more important than it seems, because normally the average user does not bother to change anything, they just want to use the app; that means that probably most Messenger conversations will remain unencrypted, and only a small percentage of users use the functionality.
Facebook has probably done this so as not to get into trouble with governments, which already have fully encrypted apps in their sights. In this way can offer peer-to-peer encryption to users who really want the functionality; although it remains to be seen if this simple solution will serve to satisfy the authorities.
Messages that self-destruct after a while
Another functionality that we will have available is that of messages that self-destruct. We can set a timer, from five seconds to 24 hours, and when the time passes the message will be automatically deleted from our device.
It can be very useful for compromised messages, but it is much less expected functionality than point-to-point encryption.
These features will be available to all iOS and Android users by the end of the summer, so it still takes a couple of months for it to extend. Will it be enough to please the authorities and users at the same time?