Facebook has confirmed that it actively scans conversations that people have on its Messenger app to ensure that the images and links shared are meeting its “community standards”. Say what?
It really is two steps forward and one step back for Facebook. After being smashed over the Cambridge Analytica affair - which we now know impacted almost 90 million people and not the mere 50 million first thought - it's been revealed, and confirmed by Facebook, that user conversations in Messenger might not be as private we all thought.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Facebook has never faced a scandal like the one it's currently fighting through. Revelations over the weekend about its reckless sharing of user data sent its stock price plunging on Monday, and fresh calls for regulations on the social media network are looking more real than ever.
Having become a ubiquitous communications action service, Messenger is widely used by lots of people and businesses. But many probably aren't explicitly aware that Facebook uses automated tools to scan messages for anything that breaches the social media company's community standards.
And while the data gleaned from that scanning isn't used for advertising, there are occasions where messages are blocked or, if they are flagged by automated systems, checked by humans to see if they are in violation of community guidelines.
But when it comes to sharing intimate moments over Messenger, the guidelines aren't exactly helpful.
Facebook's Community Standards regarding nudity say "We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks".
And "Explicit images of sexual intercourse are prohibited. Descriptions of sexual acts that go into vivid detail may also be removed".
But, while that's clear in public feeds and groups, it's less clear if that applies to private chats.
Unlike other messaging services such as iMessage, Signal and WhatsApp, Messenger doesn't encrypt messages by default. But you can enable encryption though a feature called "Secret Conversations". But, while they are end-to-end encrypted, you need to make the conversations Secret after that is enabled. In other words, it's not quite as easy or seamless to maintain a higher level of privacy as other services.
TLDR; Unless you've been using Messenger's Secret Conversations feature, your messages aren't as private as you thought. So, those intimate images and messages you may have sent might be in the hands of the censors at Facebook if their systems have flagged them.