Facebook’s automated systems scan the photos and links you send or receive via Messenger, the social media giant confirmed this week.
The company confirmed the practice to Bloomberg on Thursday, after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted at the policy in a separate interview this week. To be clear, Facebook says Messenger conversations are still private, but it scans photos and links with the same automated tools it uses to fight abuse throughout its platform.
The system is designed to allow Facebook to more efficiently and quickly respond to abuse or other content that violates its standards. If it detects abusive content or violates the company’s standards, it will either be taken down or blocked from reaching its recipient.
“For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery,” a Facebook spokeswoman told Bloomberg. “Or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses.”
In addition to scanning photos and links, Facebook also stated that chats flagged to moderators are read and reviewed by the firm’s “community operations” team.
During a recent interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Zuckerberg hinted at the practice. At one point during the conversation, Zuckerberg said he received a phone call related to sensational messages sent via Messenger that were related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
“In that case, our systems detect what’s going on,” Zuckerberg said. “We stop those messages from going through.”
That interview, of course, raised concerns and questions among Facebook users. The company maintains that the data from scanned messages are never used for advertising purposes, only for abusive content control. It added that the automated systems are “very similar to those that other internet companies use today.”
Facebook has been under intense scrutiny in the past few weeks over how it handles private user data.
The company is still reeling from revelations that private data from about 87 million Facebook profiles had been improperly obtained by Trump-connected political analysis firm Cambridge Analytica. That data was obtained without user consent by way of a personality quiz.
In the wake of the controversy, Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before Congress this month. The firm is also working to add tools that make it easier for users to control their data and is revising its privacy policies to be simpler and stricter.
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