Facebook Messenger chats aren't encrypted - but what does that mean? We explain how encryption protects your privacy and how to turn it on in Messenger
There's been a lot of chatter about privacy on Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal alongside fears that tech companies could be required to break into the encrypted content their users create on their platforms if law enforcement officials demand it.
What does that mean for ordinary users? First, a reassurance: tech companies have been clear that they neither can nor will read and hand over encrypted content. Communications on platforms such as WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook), Signal and Telegram are 'end-to-end' encrypted, which means that only the sender and the recipient can read them. There is no way for the company providing the messaging service to read them.
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Most communications - email, Facebook Messenger, Twitter direct messages, private messages on forums etc - are not encrypted by default. That means the provider of the service (or someone breaking into your account) can read them and could if required hand them over to law enforcement.
Most of us aren't about to attract the attention of law enforcement, but nonetheless it's a good idea to use encryption where it's available: for example, you might prefer that advertisers can't see the contents of your messages to use for targeting.
The good news is that you can turn on encryption in Facebook Messenger chats. It's not on by default, so you'll have to switch it on for every chat, but it's very easy to turn on.
If you're using the Android app, open the chat you want to encrypt, and tap on the i icon in the top right-hand corner. If you're using the iOS app, tap the name of the recipient at the top of the chat. (Note: you can't do this in the browser - it has to be done in the app.)
On the next screen, tap on Go to secret conversation. Tap that, and you'll be taken to a screen where you can start a new, encrypted chat.
Instead of the usual blue Facebook colouring, you'll see the icons in black, plus a padlock and a clear label that you're in a secret conversation: that lets you know that the conversation is encrypted.
Your previous conversations won't be encrypted - it only applies to chats after you've turned it on. And you can't encrypt group chats, but we think it's worth turning on as a matter of course where you can.