End-to-end encryption for Facebook Messenger is optional and is not turned on by default. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Facebook has rolled out its end-to-end encryption for its 1 billion users of the company’s Messenger service. The new layer of secure communication can be enabled by turning Secret Conversations on in any chat.

Users who wish to chat with end-to-end encryption will have to activate it on every new message. There’s actually two ways to start a Secret Conversation. The first is by tapping the new message icon then tapping on “Secret” on the upper right corner before choosing who to chat with. The other way of starting a Secret Conversation is by opening an already existing chat, tapping on the name of the recipient at the top and selecting Secret Conversation in the Settings menu.

End-to-end encryption will make sure that no other parties will be able to have access to the private messages. This means that the only people that will be able to read these messages are the sender and the receiver. Facebook won’t even have access to them as messages won’t be kept on their servers.

Secret Conversation
Secret Conversations are presented much like any other chat on Messenger, but with the added layer of security of end-to-end encryption. Tech Radar

When chatting in a Secret Conversation, users will also be able to choose how long a message will be visible. For example, a user can set a timer of five seconds. The recipient of the message will only be able to read the message for five seconds once it’s been seen, then it will disappear automatically. Users have the option to turn the timer off or set the time limit from five seconds up to a full day.

The new feature is available now to all of Facebook Messenger users, but they should make sure that they have the latest version of the app on their smartphones or tablets. It’s important to note that enabling a Secret Conversation means that users won’t be able to send GIFs, videos and voice messages, as well as not being able to initiate voice calling and mobile payments, as pointed out by Tech Radar.

Although this new security feature is easy to use, it does come with some downsides. First, old messages that aren’t under Secret Conversations won’t be encrypted. This means that snooping on old messages is still possible.

Another downside is that the feature is optional and is not turned on by default. This may prove problematic for people who chat about private matters but have forgotten to turn on Secret Conversations.

Another issue with the end-to-end encryption on Messenger is that it is not that known, for it was not even formally announced by Facebook. These could mean that not all of its one billion users will be able to take advantage of the feature simply because they weren’t informed properly. Facebook failed to provide an in-app announcement for the feature, and the company also didn’t provide its users with instructions on how to use it, as pointed out by Engadget.

Facebook has been faced with some troubles when it implemented end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp by default. Brazilian authorities arrested a Facebook executive for being unable to decrypt WhatsApp messages sent by criminal suspects, as pointed out by WIRED. Having the security feature optional on Messenger may have been Facebook’s way of avoiding that very problem.

Despite those pitfalls, Facebook is finally giving users the power to keep their conversations on Messenger truly private.