Facebook Messenger’s 1.3 billion users have already been told that its long-awaited and most critical security update is delayed. Now a major rival is taking advantage, with a brilliant new update that exposes Messenger’s security weaknesses even further.
It’s now three years since Facebook promised end-to-end encryption was coming to Messenger by default. Since then, we’ve seen Facebook telling users how critical such security is, even as its deployment appears to push back further and futher.
This security is needed to keep users “safe from hackers, fraudsters and criminals,” Meta’s Antigone Davis, said last month, even as she warned that “we’re taking our time to get this right… [and] don’t plan to finish the global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default across all our messaging services until sometime in 2023.”
But Messenger’s stickiness has continued to prove out, despite this security gap—helped enormously by Facebook’s continued feature releases. One of the biggest recent updates has been its Rooms, of course, a swipe at Zoom, Teams, Meet and others, offering mutli-platform, multi-person video calls just as the market for such tech exploded through the endless lockdowns that we’ve all lived through.
Messenger Rooms works across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp—you can access a Room from those platforms. But just as with Messenger, the huge weakness is that Rooms are not end-to-end encrypted and are part of Facebook’s data harvesting machine. “As with other parts of Facebook, we collect data from Rooms regardless of whether you joined through one of our apps or without logging into an account.”
WhatsApp can fix this. Its group video calls are fully end-to-end encrypted, but whereas Rooms can accommodate 50 people at a time, WhatsApp video calls max out at just eight. But now there’s a brilliant, new solution that solves this problem.
Signal, the security-first messenger that proved to be such a thorn in WhatsApp’s side when Facebook tried to force WhatsApp’s 2 billion users to accept new data-sharing terms of service, has now come up with the perfect Rooms alternative.
Signal has just announced that 40-person video calls are going live. The feature runs cross-platform, allows for screen sharing, and maintains full security throughout. As with everything Signal, transparency is paramount. You can read all about how the expanded video service was designed with security in mind on its site.
When WhatsApp expanded its fully secure video calling up to eight participants, that was a major achievement. Signal has now raised that bar significantly—five-fold! It’s not as flexible as Rooms, but it’s significantly more private and secure.
My current advice is for you to use WhatsApp as your daily messenger, given its scale, but to run Signal in parallel. Especially now that Signal has a much better secure group video calling offering. And while it won’t compete with Zoom and Teams in the workplace, for friends, family and ad hoc calls it’s a no-brainer.
Talking of WhatsApp, the world’s largest messenger has just launched a brilliant update of its own, expanding its disappearing messages feature to offer the flexibility we hoped would have been there from the start. Back when it was introduced, I pointed out that Messenger had a much fuller offering, which seemed wrong given this is a privacy feature. Well, that balance has now been redressed.
New Disappearing Messages Options
With these latest updates and the many others we’ve seen in the last year, you have never had more options when it comes to secure messaging, but you need to make choices accordingly. WhatsApp and Signal lead the pack—I wouldn’t look further than those two right now. The likes of Telegram, Messenger and Google Messages don’t offer any level of default security that comes close, while iMessage has lost its way with its new AI-based child safety filter breaking the end-to-end enclave.
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