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Facebook Testing “Secret Conversations” Feature

Facebook has begun trialling end-to-end encryption, termed “secret conversations”, in its Messenger application. With end-to-end encryption, Facebook says users will enjoy more granular control over their privacy when discussing sensitive topics like financial or medical information. Some flagged users can test the feature right now, but it will become more widely available later this summer.

Safeguarding from Surveillance

Facebook isn’t the first player in the mobile messaging industry to introduce end-to-end security. WhatsApp applied this level of security to all its messages back in April. But unlike WhatsApp, Facebook is opting for a conversation by conversation approach, believed to be less antagonistic towards law enforcement and government officials. Because the feature is opt in rather than on by default, many users are likely to ignore the feature altogether.

Added Security

Although end-to-end encryption doesn’t guarantee a message’s integrity, intercepting a protected conversation would require significantly more cooperation from Facebook with law enforcement. Apple recently objected to the FBI’s demands to unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters, and with this new feature a similar situation could arise from Facebook’s Messenger application.

Looking Forward

Facebook’s introduction of end-to-end encryption is significant, and likely a response to recent criticism of Facebook for scanning and retaining shared links in private messages. A class action lawsuit was filed early in May against the social network, and it alleged that Facebook was creating marketing data with links it scans in its Messenger application. A security researcher also noted in June that third party developers could easily snoop on Messenger’s link scanning protocol. End-to-end encryption, however, would kill link scanning entirely.

With over 900 million users as of April, Facebook is positioned as social platform behemoth. Adding new functions such as chat bots and end-to-end encryption is clearly a move by Facebook to stay ahead of the curve and keep its users coming back. Either way, this move is clearly a boon for user privacy worldwide.

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