Facebook brings end-to-end encryption to Messenger with ‘secret conversations’

Facebook Messenger now has an encrypted messaging tool, but it doesn't come close to covering all your conversations on the messaging platform.

Facebook’s following the encrypted messaging trend set by other apps including Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Viber, and Google’s Allo. On Friday, the social network announced a limited beta version of Messenger for Android and iOS with an end-to-end encryption (E2EE) feature dubbed secret conversations.

Secret conversations will only be available to a limited number of users at first, with a wider roll out planned for later this summer. The feature name “secret conversations” first surfaced in March.

secret conversation ios

Secret conversations in Messenger for iOS.

Messenger’s secret conversations won’t be like WhatsApp, which offers complete E2EE for all messages when all users in the conversation have a compatible version of the app. Instead, secret conversations will allow Messenger users to encrypt one-on-one conversations on the fly. Group messaging will not be covered.

When encrypted, the messages will only be accessible to the two conversation participants. While the message is in transit from one device to the other it won’t be possible for third parties—including Facebook—to decipher the message.

Facebook is also adding a Snapchat-like self-destruct setting that allows secret conversations to disappear after a predetermined amount of time. Rumors about Facebook’s plans for a Snapchat-like feature for Messenger first surfaced in May.

Each secret conversation will also exist in its own section of the app for each Messenger contact. Secret conversations will not be integrated with the main conversation thread for that person.

The biggest limitation of secret conversations is that new feature will only work on one device. Facebook told Wired it doesn’t have a system in place to distribute encryption keys (bits of information that encrypt and decrypt messages) across multiple devices.

secret conversations

Secret conversations will also start with a slimmed down feature set, leaving out support for animated GIFs, video, Facebook’s payments system, and other features.

For the encryption protocol, Facebook plans to use Open Whisper Systems’ Signal, which is also used by WhatsApp and Allo.

The story behind the story: Facebook hasn’t said whether it plans to move towards a fully-encrypted Messenger or only offer the option for people who need it. As more features get added to secret conversations, and if Facebook lifts the one device limit, the E2EE feature could become a standard part of the massive messaging platform.

If going full E2EE is indeed the final plan it wouldn’t be the first time Facebook took a piecemeal approach to encryption. Facebook’s move to make all parts of the social network’s website SSL/TLS-compatible took several years. At first, users had to enable SSL/TSL encryption manually, and many features of the site didn’t work when early versions of the security measure were turned on.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags MessagingFacebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?