While online privacy protection has been a hot topic for some time, recent news stories, such as the conversation history Facebook just handed over to authorities, have brought it to the forefront. But how can you maintain contact with friends and family while maintaining your privacy? Even if there are several messaging applications with greater privacy features, you may have trouble convincing the individuals you want to stay in touch with to use them. What is your preferred option? What if they insist on communicating using Facebook Messenger, for instance?
Using end-to-end encryption (E2EE) on Messenger is a good place to start.
End-to-end encryption basically implies that no one should be able to read what is in your chat, not even Facebook’s business Meta. To put it briefly, this is done by giving each party’s account a unique key; only the account with that key may unlock the message. E2EE is now accessible through Meta’s Messenger platform, but only per-chat. Here’s how to activate E2EE if you’re ready to start a Messenger chat that you wish to keep private until the company announces plans to enable it by default. (The procedure is largely the same for iPhones and Android smartphones.)
- In your Messenger mobile app, select Chats in the bottom menu.
- Tap on the Edit icon in the upper right (it looks like a pen).
- Toggle on the lock icon in the top right.
- Select the name of the person you want to chat with. (Note: according to Meta, there are some accounts you can’t use with E2EE, such as businesses and accounts of public figures.)
You may also choose to activate E2EE while you are still in conversation with the individual.
- Within the conversation, tap the information (looks like an “i”) icon in the top right.
- Tap Go to secret conversation.
You may enter Vanish mode from here, which will make the conversation disappear when you close the chat.
- In the information page, tap Vanish mode.
- Toggle Vanish mode on.
An encrypted discussion may only occur between the participants and the devices they are using, which is something to be mindful of. You can’t just transfer an encrypted chat from one mobile device to another and continue it; instead, you must actively add the second device to the conversation by signing in to the Messenger software on it (the other participants will be notified that there was a new device added).
In addition, the Messenger app for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox allows you to participate in secure online chats (in Firefox, ironically, private mode must be disabled).