Facebook Messenger is launching new security features to better protect user messages from prying eyes (like those of, say, the FBI).
The company announced Friday that it built a new feature inside Messenger called “secret” messages, or private conversations that are end-to-end encrypted. These messages will be stored only on the sender’s and recipient’s devices, not on Facebook’s servers like regular Messenger messages.
Facebook is also rolling out what amounts to a self-destruct timer for these messages, which means you can set them to disappear automatically after a set period of time (from five seconds to 24 hours).
Messenger is the latest in a string of private messaging services to bust out some kind of end-to-end encryption in the last six months. Others include Viber, which launched end-to-end encryption in April, and Facebook’s other messaging app, WhatsApp.
The timing of all this doesn’t feel coincidental. The move comes just a few months after government agencies and tech companies battled over user privacy. Government agencies like the FBI don’t like end-to-end encryption because it provides a security risk when it’s used by criminals. Users (and tech companies), on the other hand, seem to love the idea, as they like to know their private messages are actually private.
Facebook says that you’ll have to turn on a secret chat manually for it to work, because Messenger is cross-device (meaning people can carry their conversations from their phones to their laptops to their tablets). Since messages that are end-to-end encrypted only live on the devices they are delivered to, a secret chat on your smartphone won’t be accessible via Messenger on your tablet, for example.
Secret messages will roll out to a limited test group to start, but Facebook “fully expects this to be available to everyone by end of the summer,” a spokesperson said.