Cryptocat launched three years ago, and it allows users to encrypt their online chat-room exchanges by means of a browser extension. It also offers a free iPhone application, enabling the encryption of messages sent via iOS, with an Android version on its way. Now users can enjoy genuine privacy while communicating via Facebook chat.
But why Facebook? The social network has 1.28 billion monthly active users, and most of them have growing concerns about what the site is doing with their data. Last year, a survey of Facebook quitters revealed that around one-half of the participants had left the site over privacy concerns. And earlier this year, a lawsuit against Facebook claimed that the contents of private messages were being scanned, with information about users’ Web activity being passed on to marketers and advertisers.
With Cryptocat offering free, easy encryption for everyone with its browser add-on, its user base is likely to grow pretty substantially. The tool works by reading users’ Facebook contact lists and turning them into Cryptocat buddy lists, and it requires both users in conversations to have the add-on installed. This isn’t a complicated process.
Still, let’s be realistic: Most users probably aren’t concerned enough to download this. If you’re using private messages to arrange dinner with friends or ask your mom what to get your dad for his birthday, who cares if Facebook sees it? But for people discussing things they shouldn’t be — or things they really, really want to keep private — Cryptocat’s tool is likely to become very popular.
The tool does have its limits, though. While all messages sent through Facebook chat will be displayed as “<message encrypted>” — thus making it impossible for Facebook to read them — there’s still the question of metadata. Facebook will still know who you’ve been talking to, how frequently, and from what device — and it can still pass that information on to the authorities, or marketers and advertisers, if it still hasn’t learned from that mistake.
What remains to be seen is how Facebook will react to Cryptocat’s encryption tool. In all likelihood, there’s not much the social network can do about it, but who knows?
Readers: Would you ever consider encrypting your Facebook chats? If so, why? Let us know in the comments!