Facebook has provided a major security boost to all forms of communication across its Messenger platform — both text and media — but with an annoying catch in place. When it comes to mass-market messaging platforms, end-to-encryption is usually accepted as the highest standard for security. This technique involves sending messages in an encrypted form that can be decrypted at only two points — the sender’s and receiver’s devices. Even the facilitating platforms cannot take a peek into the conversations as they don’t have access to the decryption keys.
As far as Facebook is concerned, the company’s take on a secure messaging experience is rather confusing. The Messenger app, for example, offers end-to-end encryption for conversations, but it is an opt-in feature. Interestingly, Facebook-owned WhatsApp applies end-to-end encryption by default to all communication, and so do other privacy-centric platforms such as Signal and Threema. Messenger, on the other hand, asks users to start new Secret Conversations to take advantage of the security standard.
While end-to-encryption on Messenger was limited to text-based chats, Facebook has now extended it to voice and video calls. For now, this applies only to one-on-one voice and video calls, but the social media giant promises to extend end-to-end encryption to group chats and calls (both audio and video) as well. With the privacy update, Facebook’s encryption now covers text messages, pictures, stickers, videos, voice calls, and video calls conducted across Messenger. Unlike Zoom, there’s no such thing as exclusivity for paid users or any misleading claims.
As mentioned, there’s a caveat when it comes to actually reaping the benefits of end-to-end encryption on Messenger, and that’s opting in. Users need to start a new Secret Conversation to protect their chats behind a layer of encryption. To do this on Android phones, create a new chat (or open an existing one), tap on the exclamation mark icon in the top-right corner of the chat page, and select ‘Go to Secret Conversation’ option at the bottom. If using the iOS version, users need to tap on the lock icon in the top-right corner after creating or opening a chat window to start an end-to-end encrypted secret chat.
Messenger also offers users an option to check if their chats are end-to-end encrypted. To do so, tap on the profile picture of the recipient in a secret chat and select the ‘Your Keys’ option. This will then show keys that can be matched with the encryption keys appearing on the recipient’s phone to confirm that the chat is end-to-end encrypted. In reality, making users manually opt-in to a crucial security feature is an unnecessary hassle, especially when the feature can be offered as a default privacy setting from the get-go. Another limitation is that end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger is limited to the mobile apps, and cannot be enabled when using the service on a computer.