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Facebook Scans What You Send Other People on Messenger App

08 April 2018

Facebook confirmed Thursday that it uses automated tools to scan Messenger chats for malware links and child porn images.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself has admitted to monitoring Messenger conversations. Messenger doesn't use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect.

"Amazing 360 degree photos and panoramic photos will give you the ability to share more immersive views of your world - from stunning landscapes, to that coveted ocean view from your hotel room, or the way your new apartment looks -the world is your oyster now in Messenger", Sean Kelly and Hagen Green, Product Managers at Messenger, wrote in a blog post. Turns out, Facebook's watchdogs aren't far away. Zuckerberg told Klein about stopping sensational messages about ethnic cleansing in Myanmar being sent through Messenger.

"In that case, our systems detect that that's going on", Zuckerberg said during an interview with Vox.

Of course, these revelations come as Facebook is facing heavy criticism on the way it has handled users' private data in the past. Partly that's in response to the incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into effect in Europe next month. With a since-tightened API, app-makers were able to see not only personal information about the specific users of their apps and services, but that of the individual's friends, despite not informing that greater group. "We stop those messages from going through".

However, there is no built-in camera function available in the Messenger update, whereas the Facebook app supports a built-in 360-degree camera for cover pictures. However it's automated tools doing the day to day analysis. Human moderators on the "community operations" team only get involved, it's suggested, when specific posts or messages are reported for violating Facebook's "community standards".

The old settings menu (left) and new settings menu (right). The fact that it's Facebook deciding what's "acceptable" and what is not is, arguably, as controversial as automatic scanning in the first place.

Facebook said in a statement on Thursday that keeping messages private is its priority, but it also defended the automated tools as being "very similar to those that other internet companies use today". Earlier this week, Zuckerberg declined to say what aspects of the GDPR the social site would roll out globally, beyond the legally-required minimums in Europe.

When it comes to photo features on mobile apps, Facebook remains ahead of the pack with the unveiling of a new 360-degree photo and HD video feature in its Messenger app.

Facebook Scans What You Send Other People on Messenger App