Facebook Messenger upgrades encrypted chat feature

"It's a clear step forward in bringing the benefits of secure, robust cryptography to billions of people around the world," said one former employee.
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Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr

Chatting on Facebook is quietly getting more secure.

The social media company’s Messenger, used by 1.2 billion people around the world, just launched a significant usability upgrade to its “Secret Conversations” feature that enables encrypted communications between two people on multiple devices. Previously, encrypted communications were available to one device per person, severely limiting their attractiveness in a world where people rapidly switch between mobile, tablets and desktop devices.

Messenger’s adoption of strong encryption and this latest feature upgrade has won plaudits in the privacy community.


The change, however, was practically whispered in a small update to a year-old blog post that had first announced the encryption features — and Facebook only added the information after users actually noticed the existence of the new feature.  For a company with the ability to make a splash about almost anything it does, this seems a deliberate choice to keep the encryption conversation relatively quiet at the moment.

“I love this,” said Alec Muffet, previously a security engineer with Facebook. “It’s a clear step forward in bringing the benefits of secure, robust cryptography to billions of people around the world. My sole reservation stems from Facebook’s apparent lack of public pride in this amazing achievement, and I fear that such indicates a lack of commitment to E2E in the Messenger product when compared to (say) WhatsApp.”

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is the most popular messenger in the world, counting approximately 1.2 billion in its user base. It has led Messenger in the encryption department in both speed — WhatsApp began work in 2014, Messenger’s cryptography landed last year — and implementation. WhatApp’s encryption is on by default, Messenger requires a user to opt-in.

Correction: Messenger and WhatsApp both have approximately 1.2 billion monthly active users. This article previously misstated Messenger’s active user base as 900 million per month.

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