Admit it–as a culture, the next best thing to solving mysteries is keeping secrets.
That’s the essence of true crime podcasts, true crime shows, true crime movies, and anything else strange and mysterious in the true crime realm. You know it’s true! People love figuring out whodunnit and seeing how the clues come together to put someone behind bars, but there’s always a part of your brain amused when the perpetrators get busted. This may even be followed by the thought, “If I did this, here’s how I’d do it and NEVER get caught.”
Some of these life lessons about the value of secrets might even go all the way back to grade school, when keeping mum was absolutely the most important thing in life, whether it was to whisper who liked whom or who threw pencils into the ceiling. Snitches were roundly ostracized, even though later in life we were taught to be honest and always tell the truth. But for most of us, the damage was already done and keeping our secrets was how the world was supposed to work.
This view has evolved into the grown-up world too, especially where technology is concerned. Computer and device passwords and security features are essentially ways to say to everyone, “don’t look at my stuff.”
Maybe you’re doing or saying something you shouldn’t be, or maybe you just want some privacy from looky-loos. No girls allowed, no boys allowed, no parents allowed (except for those you share access with to invite in.)
This preference for privacy has also expanded into other realms of technology. For instance, there is more and more interest in keeping online chats as confidential as possible.
Whatever you have to say to others, it’s possible that you don’t want anyone else to see your conversation. Of course, with the immediacy of instant messages, there’s always the possibility that you’ll regret your words and want to erase them or change them later. Likewise, there’s the possibility of the person you’re writing, saving, or sending your messages to others.
Old texts and social media conversations are beloved by attorneys everywhere, since they can be used in court to prove an accuser is correct or wrong. They may make a difference in a case when it’s one person’s word against another, or perhaps showing elements of planning and intent in criminal cases. Law enforcement also has the right to request records from social media platforms and they usually get them.
Or, regardless of whatever you have to say, legal or otherwise, privacy advocates say they don’t want anyone knowing what they’re saying, which could happen if a spouse, family member, co-worker or even a stranger discovers our device or the device of whomever we’ve been talking with. Or worse, hackers, identity thieves, private investigators or even the government can discover our words.
To further provide these opportunities for privacy, more and more social media companies are offering what are called secret chats.
These can include special features like encryption to access a chat window or the ability for a message to self-delete after a certain amount of time passes. Most of the main platforms now have some kind of secret message feature. Think “this message will self-destruct” from “Mission Impossible”, only less explosive!
“We don’t need to know what you’re saying, and neither does anyone else,” said a representative from ringID, a social media platform that offers members a variety of tools, including live broadcast, video calling, stickers, and a variety of news and entertainment channels. It also offers a traditional Chat and a Secret Chat feature. “We allow our members to easily decide how long they want their messages to stay alive, and when a message is deleted, it’s gone forever from everywhere.”
Other social media platforms are figuring out how to offer these services, in addition to traditional messaging. They aren’t given heavy promotion compared to other general features, but you can often find out how to use them from the Help menu.
For instance, Telegram Messenger has a Secret Chat feature now. You can customize it so the person or people you’re conversing with can’t save the messages or share them with anyone else. It takes a couple of steps to activate the highest level of security, but then you can enter a discussion that’s encrypted on both sides, and Telegram promises “to leave no trace on our servers” after the messages disappear.
You can control the auto-delete setting, from a week to a few seconds.
Facebook also has a feature available through its Messenger service called Secret Conversations. Here, you can encrypt both ends of a message. If the chat happens to be intercepted, people will just see random numbers and letters.
If you’re inside the encrypted chat, you see the Messenger window is slightly different than the traditional window. It’s also only available on mobile devices, not on desktops or laptops.
To enter a Secret Conversation with someone, all you do is open the app, tap the pencil button in the top right corner, and then slide the lock from left to right. Unless you adjust the setting, messages will disappear 10 seconds later. They’ll also be notified that their chat is private.
Privacy advocates should expect to see increasing levels of security, especially the double concerns of increased hacking and greater surveillance.