If you’re among the estimated 1 billion global citizens who use Facebook to send and receive messages, you’ll want to know about the platform’s newly released “Secret Conversations” feature. Until now, words and images passed between users via the Facebook Messenger app could be easily intercepted. With the release of Secret Conversations, you can now participate in ultra-private chats and set your messages to automatically delete after a predetermined time.
According to Mac World magazine, the new Secret Conversations feature cannot be enabled by default and must be turned on anew for each message thread. Once that’s done, a user has the option of allowing that particular conversation to remain visible to both chat participants for a period of time lasting from a Snapchat-quick five seconds to a leisurely 24 hours. Either way, Facebook says you can feel confident that your private messages will remain private during transmission and after being received.
How to use the Secret Conversations feature
First, open the Messenger landing page and tap on your profile icon on the upper right portion of the screen. Scroll to “Secret Conversations” and give it a tap. When the message screen opens, ensure the off-on slider is all the way to the right. You’ll have to do this for each new chat session you wish to conduct in private.
To begin an encrypted chat, open the Facebook Messenger app the way you always do. Lock the sliding off-on icon all the way to the right and watch for the theme color to change from basic Facebook blue to super-secret black. Select the contact with whom you wish to secretly communicate, write your message and hit the Enter button. The recipient of your message will have to agree to participate in Secret Conversations before the chat can continue.
Alternately, you can initiate a secret conversation within a pre-existing Facebook Messenger thread. Navigate to the upper right corner of the chat screen and tap on the “i” icon. On the following screen, select Secret Conversation, wait for the black theme, and continue your conversation in encrypted privacy.
Facebook Secret Conversations will work more or less like regular Messenger, but a few features you’re accustomed to will not work with the secret messaging app. “Stickers” and emojis may be sent encrypted end-to-end, but GIFs and photo images can not. Group chats are not available for super encryption at this time.
The coder behind Facebook Secret Conversations
The newest Facebook privacy feature uses encryption technology known as Signal. First unveiled as part of the WhatsApp messaging service, Signal is the brainchild of dreadlocked software engineer and former head of Twitter security, Moxie Marlinspike. Speaking as a member of the Cryptographers’ Panel at an RSA security industry forum in San Francisco last July, Marlinspike revealed to conference participants that he invented the user-friendly encryption protocol to bring uncrackable online security to “regular people” who are not especially tech savvy.
Encrypted conversations may advance society in evolutionary ways
When the topic of a failed NSA backdoor surveillance system called Clipper Chip was broached at the RSA conference, the 6-foot-2, self-proclaimed cypherpunk Moxie Marlinspike noted that law enforcement should not be as almighty as they currently are.
“They [law enforcement agencies] already have a tremendous amount of information. What the FBI seems to be saying is that we need this because we might be missing something. Obliquely, they’re asking us to take steps toward a world where that isn’t possible. And I don’t know if that’s the world we want to live in.”
Moxie considers even the smallest wiretap failure to be a small victory for progress. In an essay he published around the time of Edward Snowden’s first leaks, Moxie emphasized the fact that encrypted communications such as that offered by Facebook Secret Conversations may enable citizens to enact social progress via experimental law-bending.
“Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100 percent effective, such that any potential offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same-sex marriage should be permitted?”
Use it if you’ve got it
If you don’t see the Secret Conversations feature in your personal Facebook Messenger, don’t worry. It wasn’t offered to all Facebook Messenger users at once, but plans are in motion to deliver the new privacy protocol to every Messenger chatter very soon. In fact, every Messenger user is expected to have the option of encrypting and subsequently destroying chat conversations by the end of October.
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