Meta is making it more difficult to secretly snag a screenshot of someone’s disappearing encrypted message on Messenger. That new notification system, part of a broader effort to bolster Messenger’s end-to-end encryption functionality, will alert someone using the “vanishing messages” feature if someone tries to capture the image for themselves.
Users can still take the screenshot if they want, but doing so will cause a small text to appear at the bottom of the message exchange for the receiver reading, “[name of message saver] took a screenshot,” according to images of the feature shown to Gizmodo. This feature already exists in Messenger’s vanish mode released back in 2019, but now can be used for encrypted chats as well, a move Meta (formerly Facebook) says is aimed at making encrypted messaging users feel safer.
The notification alert was one of several new features announced today aimed specifically at Messenger’s end-to-end encrypted (or E2E) functionality. In addition to screenshot notifications, E2E Messenger will soon support GIFS and stickers, replies, reactions (of the Facebook emoji variety), and typing indicators alerting users when the person they are speaking to is maybe getting ready to send out a message. Users will also soon be able to save the media they receive through Messenger and lightly edit videos. One of the more interesting nuggets in the buffet of additions is a new ability that lets users forward a message to others, like in email.
While none of these features on their own are necessarily anything to write home about, collectively they bring added functionality and usefulness to Messenger’s E2E service, which could be significant if and when the company decides to make messages E2E by default. For some context, Messenger rolled out E2E back in 2016 under the name “Secret Conversations,” but the feature remains opt-in.
Though some privacy experts and pro-encryption types have argued making encryption the default setting across platforms would improve user privacy across the board, Meta has faced a number of challenges on that front. Groups opposed to Meta’s encryption expansion have argued doing so could hinder efforts to combat online child abuse, and track supposed criminal activity online more generally. Partly responding to those concerns, Meta’s head of safety, Antigone Davis, last year wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, saying the default E2E across all its messaging services wouldn’t come until at least 2023, a delay from previous 2022 estimates.
“We’re taking our time to get this right and we don’t plan to finish the global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default across all our messaging services until sometime in 2023,” Davis wrote. “As a company that connects billions of people around the world and has built industry-leading technology, we’re determined to protect people’s private communications and keep people safe online.”