Facebook's New Private Messaging Feature Promises Privacy From Everyone (Except Facebook)

Illustration for article titled Facebooks New Private Messaging Feature Promises Privacy From Everyone (Except Facebook)
Graphic: Facebook

Considering Facebook’s, um, questionable track record on all things privacy, you’d think the company would learn to stop leaning into the phrase when rolling out new products that promise to be safe and secure when the company actually means they’re safe and secure from everyone except, y’know, Facebook.

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None of this stopped the company from boasting about its new privacy-protecting feature for Facebook Messenger in a blog post that was dropped earlier today by Jay Sullivan, who heads all things “privacy” (in quotes) and “safety” (again, in quotes) related for the Messenger service.

The optional feature, called “app lock,” adds “another layer of security to your private messages,” by mandating that you use your phone’s fingerprint or face-sensor technology to open your Messenger account. Sullivan added that “this optional feature gives you the confidence to know that if a friend or family member needs to borrow your phone, they won’t be able to access your chats.”

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It’s a setting that keeps your chats safe from say, a snooping roommate, but doesn’t really do anything to keep your chats safe from Facebook, who’ve already proven to be more than comfortable monetizing anything that happens across any Facebook property—including Messenger. And even though Sullivan was quick to point out that “your touch or face ID is not transmitted to or stored by Facebook,” you have to wonder how truthful the company is being here, considering how they’ve had no problem storing personal details like voice chats made on the platform before. And even if it isn’t storing your face via this new feature, it doesn’t detract from the fact that the company likely already has dozens of images of your face from uploading any pictures to your profile.

Illustration for article titled Facebooks New Private Messaging Feature Promises Privacy From Everyone (Except Facebook)
Graphic: Facebook

Sullivan goes on to say that the new feature is rolling out onto iOS devices today, and will be available on Android “in the next few months.” He added (emphasis ours):

You can find this feature in the new Privacy settings section. The Privacy section makes it easy to access settings and features like the audience for your stories, muted stories and blocked people. App Lock and the Privacy section let you tailor your experience and choose settings that work best for you. We’re always working to give you more control over your privacy, so as we introduce more privacy features, you’ll have this centralized place to find them.

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It’s funny that Facebook, like some other giants in the tech space, has a weird blindspot when it comes to “giving you more control over your privacy.” They all seem willing to make privacy-related promises in the name of keeping, say, your valuable data from being monetized by a competitor, or keeping your chats out of the line of sight of a snooping roomie. But when it comes to offering any protection from the company itself, all of these promises fall far shorter than any of us have hoped.

I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

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DISCUSSION

Facebook already has end-to-end encrypted messaging... it’s called WhatsApp. (I believe data at rest is unencrypted, but that’s true of every messaging app that I know of, unfortunately. Make sure to disable cloud backups!)