Commentary

Facebook Messenger Makes 'Secret Conversations' Standard

Real or imagined, there is a growing sense that everyone’s digital dealings are at risk of exposure, manipulation, or theft. Regardless of the actual threat level, top platforms are rushing to meet demand for more secure lines of communication.

To that end, Facebook has reportedly finished rolling out one-to-one “secret conversations” to all of its 900 million or so Messenger users.

That’s a pretty quick turnaround, considering that the social giant has only been testing the opt-in feature since the summer.

Facebook is promising that these clandestine conversations can only be read on the mobile device of the intended receiver.

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Prior to secret conversations, Messenger already boasted a strong security system by using secure communications channels similar to those used by banking and shopping Web sites. But according to Facebook, users were asking for even better security.

Within the new feature, users can choose to set timers to control the length of time that each of their messages remain visible within conversations. The technology uses the Signal Protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems.

At least for the moment, secret conversations don’t support rich content like GIFs and videos, making payments, or other such features.

Of course, increased privacy awareness among consumers is not the only reason for Facebook’s interest in this area. Dating back to 2013, it’s still dealing with a class-action suit that accused the company of violating users’ privacy by scanning messages they send on the platform.

The suit also alleges that Facebook scans messages for URLs and then draws on that information in order to personalize the service, and even shares data about in-message URLs with third parties for ad purposes.

Seemingly taking a page from Snapchat, Facebook was rumored to be experimenting with disappearing messages earlier this year.

This column was previously published in Moblog on October 5, 2016.

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