SOCIAL NETWORK Facebook, a firm not usually commended for its privacy-aware efforts, has revealed that it's started to test end-to-end encryption on the Messenger service.
We first heard murmurs about Facebook planning to boost its security credentials last month. The Guardian reported that Messenger is to get an encrypted communications mode that will hide messages from the prying eyes of authorities and the social network itself.
Facebook has confirmed the rumours, announcing on Friday that it's letting a handful of paranoid users try out an encrypted 'secret conversations' feature in Messenger.
"That means the messages are intended just for you and the other person, not anyone else, including us," an out-of-character Facebook said in a blog post.
Just as The Guardian reported, the feature is available on an opt-in basis. Facebook noted that the feature will allow messages to be read on only one device, and that the "experience may not be right for everyone".
"Starting a secret conversation with someone is optional. That’s because many people want Messenger to work when you switch between devices, such as a tablet, desktop computer or phone," the firm said.
Facebook pointed out that the secret message mode won't support rich content such as GIFs and videos, or making payments. However, it will come with a Snapchat-style timed messages feature, presumably for more inappropriate messages.
"Within a secret conversation, you can also choose to set a timer to control the length of time each message you send remains visible in the conversation," Facebook said.
It's unlikely that Facebook will roll out end-to-end encryption to all Messenger users, much like WhatsApp, because it would get in the way of some of the service's artificial intelligence features, such as the 'bots' that Zuckerberg revealed earlier this year.
Many companies have made the move to end-to-end encryption following Apple's high-profile tussle with the FBI earlier this year. Facebook-owned WhatsApp now enables encryption by default for all one billion-plus users, and Google has included a secure option in the new Allo Messaging app.
However, whistleblower Edward Snowden has warned users of Allo that Google's decision to offer end-to-end encryption by default only if messages are sent in Incognito mode means it's "dangerous" and "unsafe".
"Google's decision to disable end-to-end encryption by default in its new #Allo chat app is dangerous and makes it unsafe. Avoid it for now," he said on Twitter. µ
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