To the surprise of some, Facebook has admitted spying on Messenger chats. While the social network maintains Messenger conversations are private, automated tools scan the contents, and if someone reports a message for violating community standards, human employees may review them.
Facebook has been in the news of late, and not for positive reasons. The company has found itself embroiled in a scandal which saw people’s personal data sold to a third party. And now, it turns out Facebook has been keeping an eye on your Messenger conversations too.
Mark Zuckerberg Drops a Clanger
In an interview with Vox, Zuckerberg was answering the charges that Facebook is being used to spread propaganda in Myanmar. Zuckerberg recalled being told the system “detected that people were trying to spread sensational messages through [Messenger]”. And Zuckerberg stated that “In that case, our systems detect that that’s going on. We stop those messages from going through.”
Bloomberg then followed up on this off the cuff revelation, leading the social network to explain that Facebook scans Messenger chats to ensure all content abides by the same “community standards”. Automated systems can monitor conversations or review
“For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses. Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”
Facebook Has a Duty of Care
The way Facebook describes it makes this all sound perfectly reasonable. While nobody wants a private company snooping on them, Facebook must prevent its platform being used for illegal purposes and investigate when someone complains about harassment, for example.
The problem is that people don’t trust Facebook any more. So while the social network maintains it doesn’t use Messenger data to target you with ads, in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people will retain an element of doubt about Facebook’s motives.
Consider Privacy-Focused Alternatives
I personally wouldn’t stop using Messenger because of this. However, if privacy is your number one priority, there are alternatives to Messenger, such as Telegram (the only messaging app you need) and Signal, both of which take privacy seriously.