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Facebook rolls out ‘Secret Conversations’. Copies Snapchat, again?

business Updated: Aug 04, 2016 18:58 IST
Sanshey Biswas
Sanshey Biswas
Hindustan Times

Facebook Messenger’s servers are not storing these messages in plain text, and they can’t be read by any third-party such as cyber-criminals or even governments. (AFP File)

Social networking giant Facebook has joined the encryption club with “Secret Conversations” feature on its messenger app.

By using the feature, the messages, photos and videos, shared between two people remain between them. The feature, currently in circulation only in the beta version of the app, provides end-to-end encryption. This means even if your phone or server is hacked, there will be no access to the messages.

The feature has to be manually activated for each chat unlike in WhatsApp Messenger. Each chat on Facebook’s messenger now has its own encryption switch that can be flipped on or off.

End-to-end encryption means the messages are stored only on the two devices and once they get deleted, they can’t be recovered. However, end-to-end encryption doesn’t mean that the text has to disappear. For instance, in WhatsApp, it means the messages are not getting sent to the company’s servers at all, and can only be accessed from the device itself.

Encrypted data is referred to as cipher text. Cipher text is the result of masking the plain text using an algorithm to make it unreadable for anyone apart from the sender and the recipient.

Facebook Messenger’s servers are not storing these messages in plain text, and they can’t be read by any third-party such as cyber-criminals or even governments. Also, a user on Facebook Messenger can set an expiry date for the messages to get automatically deleted while using Secret Conversations.

Does this sound familiar?

Snapchat, which was launched in 2012, has two core features. First, it is private, which means there are no likes, or comments, from public. Second, messages disappear after a specified period of time.

Facebook has been reportedly trying to duplicate the messaging app’s core features even before it offered $3 billion in a failed bid to buy the company in 2013.

Encryption is one of the many features that Facebook has borrowed from Snapchat.

Facebook-owned Instagram launched “Stories” earlier this week. A replica of “Stories” feature on Snapchat that lets people post an image or video snap for a period of 24 hours to their followers.

Snapchat has always been more about technology to stay above the curve rather than just being a social media platform. And Facebook has tried to make the most of it by replicating the popular features as standalone app Poke, which offered messages that disappeared automatically. However, this app, which was launched in 2012, was shut in 2014.

In 2013, Instagram introduced Instagram Direct, which was a private-messaging feature. Facebook, in 2014 launched Slingshot, an instant messaging software app, but was shut eventually.

Facebook’s actions seem to imitate one or more of Sanpschat’s features, to add users to its already existing family of apps, which has the largest combined user base in social media.

But, why does Facebook want to copy Snapchat features?

The reason might be that Snapchat, which was introduced as a sexting app four years ago, has raced past Twitter in terms of daily usage. The app started by two twenty somethings managed to raise several rounds of funding, thereby leading to the company’s market value to $19 billion.

Facebook is now pitting Instagram, which has 300 million active users, against Snapchat’s 150 million, with the “Stories” feature. With its resources, Facebook replicating features into its existing apps to take Snapchat’s appeal away is a strategy that suggests plans of internet domination unless the underdog stays ahead of the curve with their innovative technology like it has done so far.