To those of you who might still believe that there is some aspect of Facebook that remains private, sorry to disappoint you, but there isn’t. On Thursday, Facebook confirmed that it uses automated tools to scan chats sent through Facebook Messenger for malware links and child porn images. The tools also allow users to report any chats that may violate their community standards. Facebook’s chat moderators can review any messages that are flagged by users or flagged by their automated systems.
Many Messenger users had assumed their chats on Messenger were private. In their statement on Thursday, Facebook stated that keeping messages private is its priority, but also defended their automated tools as being “very similar to those that other internet companies use today.” Furthermore, a Facebook spokesperson stated in defense that “[t]he content of messages between people is not used for ads targeting, [and] . . . . We do not listen to your voice and video calls.”
Following a news report on Bloomberg that brought major attention to this issue, Facebook said that there was a misunderstanding of Zuckerberg’s statements, and that Messenger does not actually read text conversations, but instead, the automated systems in place merely scan photos and links that are shared in conversations. While the company does in fact have human moderators as well, the moderators only get involved when certain messages or posts get reported. The company stated that “[k]eeping your messages private is the priority for us, we protect the community with automated systems that detect things like known images of child exploitation and malware.”
This may come as quite a disappointment to some, seeing as how Facebook has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks after news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to Donald Trump’s campaign, obtained information on millions of Facebook users without their knowledge that may be a link in the Trump-Russia story. That situation sparked even more questions over privacy issues on Facebook, and led to calls for Facebook to be more transparent about how it handles its user’s data.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and co-founder, told reporters on Wednesday that the company could do a better job of explaining what it does with user data, mentioning that “[there are] many misperceptions about what we actually do.” Zuckerberg is supposed to face questions in two U.S. congressional panels next week about how the company handles its users’ data.
UPDATE: Facebook has released a tool for users to see whether or not their information was shared with Cambridge Analytica. You can click the link here to see for yourself whether your own personal information was shared.