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Facebook Privacy

Facebook Scans What You Send Other People on Messenger App (bloomberg.com) 108

Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg: Facebook scans the text and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, making sure it all abides by the company's rules governing content. If it doesn't, it gets blocked. The company confirmed the practice after an interview published earlier this week with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg raised questions about Messenger's practices and privacy. Zuckerberg told Vox's Ezra Klein a story about receiving a phone call related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook had detected people trying to send sensational messages through the Messenger app, he said.

"In that case, our systems detect what's going on," Zuckerberg said. "We stop those messages from going through." Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: "Was Facebook reading messages more generally?" Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over how it handles users' private data and the revelation struck a nerve. Messenger doesn't use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect.

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Facebook Scans What You Send Other People on Messenger App

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  • ... water is wet. Also the sky is blue! See more at 11!

    • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:36PM (#56381453) Journal

      It gets better, actually...

      On any phone older than 1-2 generations back (and on most basic entry-level new phones), FB now has had a habit of forcing your mobile browser to a limited-functionality mode (m.basic.facebook.com), and disabling messaging on the browser entirely, even if the browser (e.g. Brave, Chrome) is the latest version and perfectly capable of rendering and using the pages. The only way past it is (for now) requesting Desktop pages. At the bottom of every basic page (or if you attempt to use the Message functions on their pages) they happily tell you that you should install their apps instead.

      Guess they really want to shove you into their spyware ecosystem, no?

      • I use a Samsung phone with stang5litre ROM so I can use my phone without having to be tracked by Google. Granted, they nag you to enable tracking EVERY TIME you install an app and there's no way to disable the nag message.

        So I was supposed to be going on a date months ago, and the guy insisted on getting in touch over FB messenger. I told him I don't do FB on my phone and to just call me. Well, what do you know, he was a no show, I tried to check the messages on my phone, and it blocked me and demanded tha
      • Good. Don't use it then. Facebook can wait until you're at a computer.

        If you need messaging on the go, consider a better alternative such as Signal or Wire.

      • well ... i noticed quite some time ago google+ offering me suggestions related to topics in my skype conversations based on keywords and everyone as usual thought im being paranoid ...
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:07PM (#56381163) Homepage Journal

    Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: "Was Facebook reading messages more generally?"

    The answer is yes. Every single Messenger message you sent is routed through Zuckerberg's office. He personally scans each one, and hits an "Approve" or "Reject" button. He also has a copy of Notepad open on his desktop, and he pastes more interesting messages into the document for later use.

    Source: I work for Google.

    (Sorry, I should explain, our Google Analytics software has some cool features we use internally, that's why I know what's on Zuckerberg's desktop.)

    (Also, close that porn window, your boss just locked his screen and he's coming over to talk to you. You're welcome.)

    • (Also, close that porn window, your boss just locked his screen and he's coming over to talk to you. You're welcome.)
      That is not porn! That is my grandma you insensitive clod!

      BTW: the last porn pic was filtered by FB :(

    • Also, close that porn window, your boss just locked his screen and he's coming over to talk to you.

      Maximize that green-text-on-black terminal look-alike, so it appears that you're working. Good. Look more annoyed than--that's better!

      No, close that Slashdot window.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      I thought he uses Mac OS. See https://i.ytimg.com/vi/LQ5-Iw-... [ytimg.com] ...

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      You might think it is a joke, but private person to person messages should never be censored, not in the least, there is no message person to person that should be censored, even public censoring is extremely questionable unless it has been through the courts ie gas the Jews, feed them backed beans, https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com], whilst questionable, clearly a joke but would be automatically censored, but would it in any way reasonable (excluding of course killing the new sheriff in town).

  • Is there any way to set up an auto-responder for private-account Fecebook messages? i.e. "This account does not accept Facebook messages. Should you wish to contact me, please call (111)555-1234 or email foo (at) bar (dot) org."
  • There are several domain names that FB messenger flat out blocks. Some of them are safe sites, but competitors to Facebook. It has been a few months since I've used it though, so I don't remember the example off the top of my head.

  • Can verify (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kludge ( 13653 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:10PM (#56381193)

    I was wondering why Facebook was accessing an unindexed file on my private web server. I figured out that my son sent his friend a link to that file via Facebook.
    Everything you do on there, they are watching.
         

    • Re:Can verify (Score:5, Informative)

      by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:50PM (#56381569) Journal

      This is actually a part of FB's preview function (where they pop a little description and image onto the FB message right after the link.) It's similar to how most browsers (at least by default) plop a preview image to sites you visited on the default 'home' page when you open a browser.

      They could be caching a copy of it, they could be leeching a copy of it, they could be sucking a copy of it up into BigData(tm) and analyzing the shit out of it, or they could just see if there some preview crap they can digest and plop into the message window.

      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

        They could be caching a copy of it, they could be leeching a copy of it, they could be sucking a copy of it up into BigData(tm) and analyzing the shit out of it,

        I'm sure they do all of those and them archive it for later analysis. Given FBs history and lack of ethics, any privacy invading behavior is reasonable to suspect until proven otherwise.

      • This is actually a part of FB's preview function

        And you will find similar behavior if you send a link in an email to someone who is behind "network appliance" spam filters like Zimbra or Barracuda, or you are sending mail out through such a server. I have an unindexed link that sends me an email when anyone hits it, and every time I email a copy of that link to someone I get one or two nearly immediate hits. One is from my outgoing email server, one will be from their incoming email server. I think gmail also does this, but I don't recall.

        They could be caching a copy of it, they could be leeching a copy of it,

        The standard i

    • Don't tempt me into trying to find a bug in their algo...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Soon cop will shoot someone just in front of you, and you will not be able to even take a picture of that event. Next year your phone will taze you just for thinking about it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...damned if you don't.

    I think this is a wonderful chance to reflect on the scary amount of power those companies wield (no it isn't Facebook only, although we like to jump on it at the moment), and that perhaps this business model is incompatible with some of our (yes, "our" as "most of humankind's"!) core values.

    As I know greedy capitalism, we'll miss most of this chance (the show must go on, after all: there are billions at stake and that is somehow IMPORTANT). I hope we just fetch a tiny bit of that cha

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The only reason people are getting wound up about this is because their favourite talking head on the news told them that Facebook – in a roundabout way – helped DRRUUUMMPFF win the election. The likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple, will be able to go about their business as usual unless someone shows that they "helped" Trump's election campaign.

      • by oakgrove ( 845019 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:29PM (#56381383)

        Precisely. Had Hillary won, the same talking heads would be crowing about the shrewd "digital strategy".

      • The only reason people are getting wound up about this is because their favourite talking head on the news told them that Facebook – in a roundabout way – helped DRRUUUMMPFF win the election.

        Fun bit of trivia: Facebook actually did lend a bit of assistance to the Obama campaign in 2012 [washingtonpost.com], so it's not like ol' Zuck is strolling around wearing a red ball cap these days... Back when word first got out, the media were talking about how modern the Obama campaign was for using the data.

      • Billy, Billy, Billy.... What is this? Misspelling the President's name isn't proper *trolling* - that's just lazy. You don't really expect Shareblue to pay your $0.50 for *that*, do you?

    • Is anyone at all surprised that a company that offers a "free" service with a massive terms-of-use agreement that says they own anything you type into this service, would actually scan / index / collate any information you type into that service?

      OMG I THOUGHT FACEBOOK WAS A NON-PROFIT CHARITY!

      This is just amazingly stupid that anyone would find this to be some sort of grand revelation.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    One ring to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them?

  • Min Aung Hliang, reaver in chief, and butcher extraordinaire, is still holding court on facebook, as far as I know... Also Zuckerberg's story can't be true - a phone call? You can't call anyone at facebook, much less Mark Zuckerberg. You can go to the help center though!
  • Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: "Was Facebook reading messages more generally?"

    How do they think it detects the "bad" messages? Spidey sense?

    I'm reminded of conversations with people who think Alexa et al only listen after you say the keyword.

    • How do they think it detects the "bad" messages? Spidey sense?

      I suppose they could always implement an evil bit [wikipedia.org] for their messages. Much more efficient than scanning and trying to match against a bad word list or other approaches that are commonly used.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Alexa et al DO only listen after you say the keyword. There's local code that's optimized to detect that specific sequence of sounds, and nothing goes to the Internet until it's detected.

      That's not out of the goodness of their hearts. It's because they don't want to deal with the volume of audio they'd get otherwise; it's cheaper to have your hardware do the screening for them than it is to send a continuous stream to the cloud. On mobile devices, it also saves compute cycles, and therefore battery, to have

      • by nagora ( 177841 )

        Alexa et al DO only listen after you say the keyword. There's local code that's optimized to detect that specific sequence of sounds, and nothing goes to the Internet until it's detected.

        That's not out of the goodness of their hearts. It's because they don't want to deal with the volume of audio they'd get otherwise; it's cheaper to have your hardware do the screening for them than it is to send a continuous stream to the cloud. On mobile devices, it also saves compute cycles, and therefore battery, to have a limited recognizer that only has to detect specific keywords, and to limit use of the network.

        Mind you, there's no reason they couldn't add more keywords, or just take a sample of 5 minutes of sound every once in a while, but they don't seem to do that at the moment.

        While all of this is true it's really all just practical day-to-day issues; none of it actually means it's not listening, just that it's not recording/transmitting. And as it can be updated at will, any individual device can in fact be made to transmit at any time by the service owner (Amazon or whoever), either for their own reasons or because some government body has ordered them to. Or for criminal reasons on behalf of an admin.

  • by known_coward_69 ( 4151743 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:18PM (#56381279)

    Google has admitted to doing it since gmail first came out

    • by haruchai ( 17472 )

      Google has admitted to doing it since gmail first came out

      True but I can send links to Pornhub through Gmail without a problem.
      The one time I tried to share one with a FB friend through "private" message, it got blocked and I got run through a FB terms & conditions that warned me I was violating terms & conditions, that I had to plead guilty to sharing naughties and swear not to do it again before getting back my access (well, to *that* account - I have more than one)

  • by jddj ( 1085169 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:18PM (#56381291) Journal

    Look, Venn diagram:

    Private data: 0

    Facebook: 0

  • Big surprise. More doublespeak.

    Messenger conversations are private, Facebook scans them and uses the same tools to prevent abuse there that it does on the social network more generally.

    So your messages are private except that they're not. It seems like these companies have a different definition of 'private' than the rest of us.

    • Are you under the impression Facebook manually scans each message, each being reviewed by a human being?

      Or are you defining "A message being scanned by a computer who will do nothing except allow it to be sent to its recipient or reject it with an error message" as an invasion of privacy? Because that's a pretty wide net.

      Facebook has done some invasive things, but this isn't one of them.

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        This *might* not be one of them.

        Facebook could certainly implement an automatic scanning system that would block certain messages, and they would just disappear unless the sender complained.

        The question is, do they?

        There should be a common carrier law for messaging apps. Your app either:

        1) uses end-to-end encryption so you have no way of reading users' messages, in which case you're a common carrier and absolved of any responsibility for the content of the messages, or

        2) you can read and filter the message

      • Just because Facebook claims that's all that happens doesn't mean it is.

        How often have they lied? Fool me once and all that, if Zuckerberg told me he was shot, I'd demand him to show me the bullets, the holes and check a blood sample to verify it's his own blood before I call an ambulance.

      • being scanned by a computer who will do nothing except allow it to be sent to its recipient or reject it with an error message

        Yeah, I'm sure that's all that happens.

        I mean if they're scanning it anyway and discover you like furry midget porn it'd be a shame to waste it. Advertisers love stuff like that. In order to improve your browsing experience or something.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        A checksum to see if police know about the file and have seen the same file in the past.
        A computer looks at a link to see if the link is of interest to the police.
        Software considers if the image should be looked at by a human to see it the image is of interest to the police.
        See the brand is not not spying and not human is reading along all the time.

        Only on detection will an actual human have to look at everything to do with that account ... :)
  • Chairman Mao, or Stalin?

    Trick question! It's both.
  • About a year ago, Facebook licensed Signal's technology to do direct device to device communication with Messenger, with all messages supposedly encrypted. I am curious if this is watched and copied as well.

    Moral of the story: Want secure communication, use something like Signal, and avoid FB like the plague.

  • by Salo2112 ( 628590 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:50PM (#56381573)
    I mentioned it to a friend via Messenger a ways back and it blocked the communication and claimed it was malware. Ended up sending my friend an email about it, but lesson learned.
    • I tried to send a link to it to a friend and it was blocked, but it was pretty easy to work around. I just told him to google these two words, reversed : purity facebook. It's not a terribly smart filter.
  • This is good news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cajun Hell ( 725246 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2018 @12:54PM (#56381601) Homepage Journal

    It has been dumbfounding that so many people have chosen these proprietary messaging apps. Before you even hear any stories about how awful they are, the first thing you encounter with any of them, is that they don't interoperate with anything else. That is, if you want to talk to someone who uses that app, you have to use the same app. Simply through this, you know the protocol is undocumented and therefore very likely to be substantially worse than the state-of-the-art 20 years ago.

    But people ignore that.

    But now we're having some refreshing (and surprising!) moments of honesty. That Microsoft scans Skype looking for dirty words was not only hilarious, but an amazing thing for them to admit. Now we have another one (Facebook, this time) admitting that their app is completely and utterly insecure.

    These companies didn't get exposed by security researchers. They didn't get exposed by something embarrassing getting leaked. They didn' get exposed by common sense and people thinking about how they could prove the platforms were secure. They exposed themselves, admitting to the public that their products are worthless. They're telling us, explicitly. What more can you want? If you use these things, it's your problem. Just don't pretend you have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    The only way this might be bad, is that they're giving people the answers "too easily" so people won't get any smarter and might come to the weird conclusion that if a messaging app isn't secure, the company will own up to it. Well, I totally disagree with that. The people already failed and weren't going to learn anything anyway. So tell them the answer to this quiz, just in the desperate hope that they realize the answer next time. Maybe some day, when people are offered products that apprear to be insecure, they'll treat them as though they realize they're probably insecure. No, not everyone, but a few more percent than last time.

    Thank you, Facebook and Microsoft. I say this without irony. I don't know your motives, but your actions are about as close to teaching as anyone could ever expect from you. And you did this teaching to our most disadvantaged students, the ones who most needed it.

    • People aren't looking for state-of-the-art documented protocols or secure messaging. They just want to chat with their friends on Facebook.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      These companies are just following the upcoming law. In the near future, any service that facilitates unfiltered communication will be illegal because they might be helping sex trafficking. Anyone publishing software that creates a similar service without a host site will likely also fall. Any internet communications proposing sex must eventually be filtered because the code language talking about pay is too malleable and difficult to detect.
    • Before you even hear any stories about how awful they are, the first thing you encounter with any of them, is that they don't interoperate with anything else. That is, if you want to talk to someone who uses that app, you have to use the same app

      This is a failing of education. Most people don't understand that a service, a protocol, and a client are all separable components. They typically don't even differentiate between the service and the client: Skype is the Skype app, ICQ was the ICQ app, and so on. This has been made worse by webmail, where people don't realise that they can use Hotmail, GMail, or whatever with any IMAP and SMTP client - even on mobile devices, you'll often see people using the Microsoft app for their Hotmail account and t

  • Poop in the woods?
  • The only way to secure your communications from prying eyes is to encrypt it before it hits the tubes. You can't really do that on a phone running third-party software. You can come close to doing it running an open source OS, but you've got to be damned sure you don't have silly things like Intel ME logging your keystrokes away. Your best bet is a dedicated hardware encryption device. If you're paranoid, it'll be one you build yourself.
  • Who didn't already assume this? Btw the one watching mine is like "yep, that's another cat meme"
  • Facebook scans the text and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, making sure it all abides by the company's rules governing content. If it doesn't, it gets blocked.

    We'll censor our members' private communications with each other, but we won't censor ourselves when we make your data available to our 'partners'. Everything you do is transparent to us, but everything we do is opaque to you.

  • That means they scanned the 20 or so messages I sent to actual friends requesting email addresses.

    Deleting my account in two days after I hear back from people.

    It was insightful reviewing my "friends", I only contacted about 20 out of 120 people that I'm "friends' with. I realized I really don't want or need to contact the vast majority of them.

  • If they feel it violates there content rules that can block it; however, if tehy fail to block some that do so and something bad happens, they have no liability.

  • We often read articles that scream in moral outrage about the great firewall of China and how the Chinese govt. monitors and filters everything that people do online. How is this any different in principle if all the US big tech companies do it?
  • I stopped using it about 2006-2007. It was *already* too intrusive and the company founder had stated we had no right to privacy and the company had repeatedly secretly changed privacy settings to be more liberal and been caught.

    It's not getting any better. Facebook is a danger to your financial safety.

    and boy... so many mutual friends have ended their friendship due to facebook over the last decade. it's as bad as playing "Diplomacy" the board game (which is really nasty about ending friendships too).

  • To stop Facebook doing this (tl;dr version-) stop using Facebook. Tell everyone on Facebook you actually care about being able to reach you how to reach you besides using Facebook, deactivate your account, delete the apps from all your devices, and remove the password or login information from whatever system you use to store them, so you won't be tempted to login and reactivate it. That's about the only way to do it AFAIK.
  • 2015 they blocked a link that I sent in a private message. It was just to a website with erotic stories. I reported this as a bug, but they did not respond.
  • They used to censor all pornhub links on messenger. I see no reason why I can't send links with legal material in messages to my friends. Google might read your emails, but they at least don't remove things they find naughty.

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