Facebook spies on your messages to make sure you’re being good

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And you thought all those Facebook messages were secret. Sucker!
And you thought all those messages were private. Sucker!
Photo: kropekk_pl/Pixabay CC

Just when you thought Facebook couldn’t be more intrusive, the company has confirmed that it keeps an eye on our Messenger conversations to make sure we’re being good.

Messages you send are scanned to ensure they abide by Facebook’s rules — and if they don’t, they won’t be delivered.

Facebook is currently under fire — and rightly so — for its part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It confirmed this week that more than 87 million Americans were affected by the data-sapping scheme, which was carried out during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

But this is just one example of the many ways Facebook intrudes on our privacy. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has confirmed the social network also scans the conversations you have in Facebook Messenger to ensure that you’re not breaking the company’s rules.

Facebook keeps an eye on your conversations

Facebook’s automated systems scan every image and link you send in Messenger to detect malicious content. If the systems detect anything untoward, the content is blocked. If any of your messages are flagged, they are examined more closely by a human moderator.

“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,” a Facebook Messenger spokeswoman told Bloomberg.

“Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”

This process has allowed Facebook to identify and prevent things like “sensationalist” messages. The same tools are used to detect abusive content on the main Facebook platform, where everything must abide by the company’s “community standards.”

Messenger conversations are private, apparently

Facebook insists your Messenger conversations are private, and that the content is never used to create targeted ads. It also says that the same systems “are very similar to those that other internet companies use today.”

Nevertheless, Facebook’s “community operations” team can view your messages if the company’s feels there is a need to. This is in stark contrast to other messaging platforms such as WhatsApp — which, coincidentally, is owned by Facebook — which use end-to-end encryption.

Where end-to-end encryption is used, it’s impossible for messaging platforms to view the content you’re sending. Only the sender and the recipient has access to it. WhatsApp cannot physically access your messages — even if it was requested to do so by the government.

iMessage also uses end-to-end encryption — as do Viber, Google Allo, and Telegram.

It’s hard to ditch Facebook altogether, since so many of us use it to keep in touch with friends and family members who we might not get to see all that often. But it seems the company keeps giving us reasons not to avoid it’s popular platform.