Is Facebook Messenger Private?

3 min
a man holding a phone using messenger

As of September 2022, Facebook has 2.96 billion monthly active users, which makes it one of the biggest powers on the Internet. It handles gigantic amounts of information we all produce. Comments, photos, reels, videos, texts, events or just scrolling the feed – the list goes on. And the conversations, of course.

Facebook’s private app, Messenger, might look small, but that’s the point. Powerful tools are best utilized when they allow simplifying, automating, or hiding whatever might be too complicated for the users. The close link between Facebook and Messenger encourages us to use Meta’s products, ignoring their competition. So it’s not very surprising Messenger can boast an audience of over 1 billion users (as of July 2022). But is Facebook Messenger secure enough to assume nobody outside the chat can read it?

Is Facebook Messenger safe and private?

Facebook shares little of what goes on behind the scenes. There’s no telling how precisely its technologies and/or employees process your conversations. But the possibilities are clear:

  • personalizing your feed;
  • choosing ads for you;
  • getting feedback about Facebook features;
  • providing analyzes for businesses;
  • detecting crimes, spam, abuse;
  • scientific research.

Are Facebook messages private, then? Not in the sense of absolute secrecy. In order for you to be able to view your chats on any device, they get stored on servers. They are also heavily analyzed but the enormous volume of data to process makes it impossible for any human to analyze the messages manually. Algorithms and artificial intelligence do the vast majority of work, so your secrets most likely won’t be shown to anyone but machines.

Safety is even more important than privacy. As long as no security failures occur, information about you is safe. However, it might be shared with advertisers, partners and firms doing business on Facebook. Quite a lot of people might be handling it, actually, but they all must oblige the privacy conditions.

Sadly, Facebook has experienced multiple data breaches in the past. Some of the numbers are disturbing: hundreds of millions of users affected at once, several times. Fortunately, ‘affected’ doesn’ mean they suffered any actual harm. But if you don’t want to risk anything, you have no choice but to delete your account.

If you prefer a little risk over such desperate measures, then another irking question arises.

What does Facebook Messenger have access to?

Messenger comes in mobile apps, its own website and desktop programs, all separate from Facebook. But in fact they are one system and have the same terms of use. Facebook Messenger privacy rules are one with those of Facebook. If you have a lot of spare time, you might get acquainted with this document, but know that it’s a long and intricate read. Most of it doesn’t concern Messenger. Much of what it does concern is hard to pinpoint, since it uses generalized terms like “information” and “activities”. 

So it’s basically the inside computers owned by Meta that can access Facebook, Messenger and Instagram and all the content generated there. However, they also obtain data from third-party websites with appropriate plugins. The result of the analyses might be visible anywhere in Meta products.

Are Facebook messages private or public?

As mentioned, standard messages are all stored on the servers where they should definitely stay safe, regardless how they were sent. That’s not all about privacy. Possibly the biggest of Facebook Messenger app privacy issues is the default method of transferring what you type: unencrypted. Your messages could be visible to someone capable of monitoring the network traffic! But since 2016 there is a solution called secret conversations. It’s an optional feature of any chat on Messenger mobile app. It provides end-to-end encryption, so the messages are sent safely encrypted and stored only on endpoint devices. Your neighbors, ISP, government, hackers and Facebook administrators cannot see any of them. Facebook has taken action to make that encryption default for all of their messaging services, along with safe storage on the servers. This Facebook Messenger app privacy upgrade has been awaited for a few years now and is currently put off to 2023.

Is Messenger more private than texting?

Here’s another question. Why not use this mobile telephony feature, older than Facebook itself? Alas, it isn’t more secure in its nature. SMS doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption – that’s an important flaw. Cellular providers store all the texts on their servers, but only for a short period of time. They get deleted for disk space reuse, but other data remains, like recipients and sending time. So texting isn’t very reassuring regarding privacy. One of the many reasons that it’s getting replaced by the messaging apps.

How to make Facebook Messenger private?

Now, something more optimistic. Regardless of how much trust you put in Facebook products, you can add an additional layer of security yourself. You can provide encryption on your devices by yourself by subscribing to a VPN service. It encrypts all the Internet connections of your device and redirects them to the provider’s server. Facebook Messenger with VPN enabled has all the messages encrypted. This prevents snooping on your private conversations in local networks by hackers or your ISP. So far, until Meta developers finalize the security upgrades, they will still be stored on their servers in readable form. But a VPN can help avoid any insecurities in the networks you connect to. Install one and browse safely!

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