Facebook announces secret conversations

The Snapchat-like service will allow users to set how long their friends can view a message for

Facebook has announced a private messaging feature that will allow messages to be viewed for a limited period before being deleted.

The Snapchat-like feature is currently being trialled with a select group of Facebook Messenger users, who can specify how long they want messages to be viewable on the platform.

The messages are stored on the phone or tablet rather than Facebook servers, so they can only be set up on one device at a time. When the time limit is up, they will be removed from the device itself, so the recipient can't access them again.

Facebook said the option could be used by those who want to send sensitive information to friends, such as bank account information, or health data. It only applies to text messages, so can't be used for videos or pictures at the moment.

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Additionally, because the system uses end-to-end encryption, the messages can never be accessed by Facebook, meaning it's super-secure, although this could lead to security problems if official organisations such as the police or NSA are investigating one of the individuals in the conversation.

"Facebook will never have access to plain text messages unless one participant in a secret conversation voluntarily reports the conversation," the company explained in a technical document.

Facebook has developed the feature using Open Whisper Systems' Signal technology that is used by a number of other messaging services. 

"Starting a secret conversation with someone is optional," Facebook said. "Secret conversations can only be read on one device and we recognise that experience may not be right for everyone."

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