Facebook: New update will notify users if someone takes a screenshot of their message

Woman looking at her phone with a shocked expression
Screenshotters, beware. Photo credit: Getty Images

Screenshotting is a fantastic function. Whether capturing a favourite meme, making note of a cafe to try in future, or furiously sending your friend evidence of a person's wrongdoing, screenshots can be a blessing in button form - but they can also be a curse. 

Screenshots have the power to do a lot of harm. Some will use the function to save personal information about another person, often without their permission, or share intimate moments intended for only one set of eyes. Photo-sharing app Snapchat offers a safety feature where it notifies the user if someone has taken a screenshot of their photo or video, while Instagram will alert an account if a person has taken a screenshot of a "disappearing" photo or video sent via direct message.

Now, Facebook is set to become the latest social media giant to introduce screenshot alerts, in a bid to add another layer of safety to its messaging function.

In an update shared to his account last week, Facebook co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg revealed the social networking service will start notifying users if a screenshot is taken of their message - but only for end-to-end encrypted Messenger chats, otherwise known as secret conversations.

"New update for end-to-end encrypted Messenger chats so you get a notification if someone screenshots a disappearing message. We're also adding GIFs, stickers, and reactions to encrypted chats too," Zuckerberg said, illustrating the new feature in a conversation with his wife, Priscilla Chan. 

The end-to-end encryption feature was introduced by Facebook to provide an added layer of protection against hackers, criminals and other prying eyes. In secret conversations, users can set a timer to have their messages disappear from the chat after they've been viewed by the other person - for example, a user could set the timer so all new messages are removed 15 minutes after they've been seen by other members of the chat.

Anyone in the end-to-end encrypted conversation can reset the timer, and if the message isn't read within 14 days, it will automatically disappear from the chat. 

However, Facebook warns that even with the disappearing feature, it's still possible for someone to forward, copy, photograph or screenshot the message and save its contents before it vanishes.

To help rectify this, the new update will notify users if the person they're speaking to screenshots a 'disappearing message' - alerting the person via a note in the chat that a screenshot has been taken.

The new function is an attempt from Meta, Facebook's parent company, to improve privacy on its messaging app. 

"Last year, we updated the settings for disappearing messages in our end-to-end encrypted chats and now we're introducing a new notification when we detect that someone screenshots a disappearing message,"  Meta said in a press release last week.

"We think it's important that you are able to use encrypted chats and feel safe, so we want to keep you informed if anyone takes screenshots of your disappearing messages. This is the same feature we offer in Messenger's vanish mode, and now we're rolling out this notification over the next few weeks for disappearing messages in our end-to-end encrypted chats."

The option is only available on Android, iPhone and iPad devices.

Rest assured, it doesn't seem like Zuck has any plans to apply the feature to normal Messenger - yet.

Meanwhile, shares in Meta fell 26 percent on Thursday (local time) in what could be the worst single-day wipeout in market value for a US company. It followed a dismal forecast issued by the social media giant, blaming Apple's privacy changes and increased competition.

As a result, Zuckerberg's net worth fell by almost US$30 billion.