In the wake of what's been a pretty rough few weeks privacy-wise for Facebook, the company revealed it analyzes users' private Facebook Messenger conversations in the same way it does with public content.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg first hinted that the social network accesses private Messenger interactions in an interview with Vox. Referencing an incident where people in Myanmar were trying "to incite real harm" by sending "sensational messages" via Facebook's private messaging function, the platform founder explained how they intercepted the messages on this occasion. "Our systems detect that that's going on. We stop those messages from going through," he said.
In the same way, Facebook scans content that's distributed publicly on the platform to ensure it clamps down on extreme content. In its community standards, Facebook explains that "to help balance the needs, safety, and interests of a diverse community...we may remove certain kinds of sensitive content or limit the audience that sees it."
But the revelation that they can look inside our Messenger interactions, too, raised concerns among people who had previously believed they were entirely private.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Facebook explained how it works:
"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."
And Facebook Messenger confirmed that the only reason for this automated scanning of content is to uphold their community standards. A spokesperson said: "Keeping 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 is not done by humans. We do not listen to your voice and video calls."
The confirmation that the company assesses Facebook Messenger conversations in this way comes after Facebook updated its privacy settings and its data policy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. "We better explain how we combat abuse and investigate suspicious activity, including by analyzing the content people share," they explained in a blog post.
Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has been left having to defend his place at the top of the company. With the recent reports surrounding illegitimate data gathering by third parties, criticism of fake news spreading and more, questions have been raised as to how suitable he is for the leading role within Facebook.
The BBC reports Zuckerberg responded to questions over whether his role as CEO and chair of the board was up for discussion, saying: "Not that I know of!"
"When you're building something like Facebook which is unprecedented in the world, there are things that you're going to mess up. What I think people should hold us accountable for is if we are learning from our mistakes."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.