Facebook Messenger Is Rolling Out A Timer Feature To Let Select Users Self Destruct Select Conversations

Facebook Messenger is reportedly testing a new timer feature allowing users to give each message in a thread an expiration date. Translation: chat messages on the platform can self-destruct.

The first hints about the unconfirmed “secret conversations” feature were revealed by the code for Messenger, as reported by The Information earlier this year. At the time, it was unclear if secret messages would simply mean encrypted chats or if it implied self-destructing chats.

The social media giant announced in a blog post it is testing secret conversations with end-to-end encryption, which means only the participants in the conversation can read the contents in the thread.

“We’ve heard from you that there are times when you want additional safeguards — perhaps when discussing private information like an illness or a health issue with trusted friends and family, or sending financial information to an accountant,” wrote Facebook on the company blog post. “To enable you to do this we are starting to test the ability to create one-to-one secret conversations in Messenger that will be end-to-end encrypted and which can only be read on one device of the person you’re communicating with. That means the messages are intended just for you and the other person — not anyone else, including us.”

Facebook Messenger rolls out "secret messages" feature to select users.
Facebook Messenger rolls out "secret messages" feature to select users. Facebook

Should Facebook users want to utilize the “secret messages” feature, then only one device -- say, a tablet or smartphone -- can be selected, in order to ensure the social media giant is not sending multiple encryption keys.

There are some limitations to the feature, as “secret messages” does not support all Messenger Features. According to Facebook, it does not cover “rich content like GIFs and videos, making payments, or other popular Messenger features.” Those not interested in end-to-end encryption need not worry, as the feature will not be an automatic upgrade. Instead, users will have to opt-in to keep their messages a secret.

One element of the “secret messages” feature is a self-destruct option, a la Snapchat. Using the timer option, users can opt to control how long a message is available to view in the conversation.

“Within a secret conversation, you can also choose to set a timer to control the length of time each message you send remains visible within the conversation,” wrote Facebook in a blog post. “Our technology uses the Signal Protocol developed by Open Whisper Systems.”

While this feature has already been rolled out to select users for testing, Facebook said it will be unveiled to all users later this summer.

“It’s table stakes in the industry now for messaging apps to offer this to people,” says Messenger product manager Tony Leach to Wired. “We wanted to make sure we’re doing what we can to make messaging private and secure.”

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