How to Use End-to-End Encryption in Facebook Messenger Right Now

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Meta may not be a stronghold of digital privacy (and may very well be an enemy of it), but times could change. The company announced on Thursday, August 11, they are testing end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for Facebook Messenger as default, which means that all Messenger users would have their chats protected from prying eyes, unless they choose not to. While these changes aren’t expected for all users for some time, there are ways to enable E2EE in Messenger right now.

How end-to-end encryption works

With typical messaging, texts are stored openly on your device, the device you send them to, and the messaging platform’s server (i.e. Facebook Messenger itself). These messages can be read by anyone with access to the devices where these messages are stored including the messaging platform hosts. It makes it easier for a business like Meta to hand over your messages to an authority, should such a request arise.

With end-to-end encryption, however, messages are not sent and stored in plain text, but rather they’re’ scrambled.“If you were to try to read an encrypted message, it would appear as an unrecognizable jumble of characters, making it useless to intercept.

To decrypt the message, you need a “key”.“For messaging purposes, this key is either your device or the recipient’s device. These two devices are the only devices capable of decrypting your particular conversation—eeven though Meta facilitates the passage of these messages, it has no way of decrypting the messages for itself or whoever comes to ask for them.

Meta is testing E2EE as the default messaging protocol for all conversations in Messenger, which would provide these benefits to all users from the start. However, testing is in its early stages at this point, with Meta apparently only including a few hundred users at first. Statistically speaking, you’re not in this test group, so you’ll need to use Messenger’s hidden E2EE functionality to reap the security benefits.

How to Enable End-to-End Encryption in Facebook Messenger

This hidden feature is called “Secret Chat” and it’s pretty simple to use (if a bit buried). To get started, open a conversation you want E2EE for, then tap the person’s name at the top of the screen. Under ‘More actions’, tap ‘Go to secret chat’, and Messenger will instantly open a new E2EE chat, with a unique black and white theme to indicate that it is not a normal Messenger chat.

The catch is that the the other user must be using a device and Messenger app that supports Secret Chat and E2EE. If not, you will receive an error message when trying to send anything to a secret chat. You also cannot use secret chats with groups—kKeep this in mind before you start sharing sensitive information with your multiparty chats. You also won’t be able to send GIFs, make audio or video calls, or send payments in Secret Chats.which somewhat limits the functionality.

Still, for E2EE purposes, Secret Chats does the job: just keep in mind that you’ll see two chats in your app for each contact you’ve started a Secret Chat with. Be sure to press the thread with the lock icon, not the normal conversation, if you want your messages to be protected. That said, Messenger makes it pretty clear when secret chat is enabled, so if you don’t see any reference to it in your chat, assume E2EE isn’t active.

Other ways to use E2EE on Facebook

Secret Chat isn’t your only E2EE option for Messenger either: there’s also something called vanish mode. Meta, then Facebook, presented it in November 2020, advertising it as a Snapchat-like messaging experience: texts disappear after the chat is closed, and the app speaks to anyone who takes a screenshot of the feed. What the company doesn’t the stress, however, was that vanishing mode chats are fully end-to-end encrypted.

To use vanish mode, all you have to do is swipe up from the bottom of any of your Messenger chats. As you go, you’ll see “Swipe up to activate vanish mode”, along with a progress ring telling you how much more you need to swipe to activate the feature. Once the ring is filled, let go: the chat will then go into disappearing mode, encrypting all messages and deleting them when you leave. You can also turn vanishing mode on or off from a chat’s settings: scroll to the bottom of the page, tap “vanishing mode,” then toggle the slider.

Meta actually removes Messenger’s disappearing mode once it rolls out E2EE by default, but you’ll still be able to enable a similar feature for disappearing messages. The company keeps Instagram’s version of vanishing mode, but it’s not E2EE, so it’s not as safe.

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