Mark Zuckerberg admits Facebook scans content of 'private' messages

News 05/04/2018

Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg has publicly admitted his social network has the ability to detect the content of "private" messages. 

Talking on a podcast with Vox's editor at large Ezra Klein, Mr Zuckerberg discussed an incident in Myanmar where Facebook systems detected discussions related to civil conflicts.

"We detected that people were trying to spread sensational messages," Mr Zuckerberg said on the Ezra Klein Show. 

"That's the kind of thing where I think it is clear that people were trying to use our tools in order to incite real harm." 

The comments come in the wake of a rough year for Facebook where Mr Zuckerberg and the company got caught in controversies related to privacy and electoral interference.

In March news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based political data-analytics firm hired by the 2016 Trump campaign, got its hands on data for 50 million Facebook users - without the users' knowledge or consent. 

Around the same time Mr Zuckerberg admitted his company had made mistakes and outlined his plans to restore trust with users.

A Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg that while Messenger conversations are private, Facebook has the ability to scan them with the same tools it uses to prevent abuse on its main social network. 

"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," the Facebook Messenger spokesperson said in a statement to Bloomberg.

"Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behaviour on our platform."

In 2014 Facebook Messenger detached itself from the central Facebook app meaning users were required to download the Messenger app separately. 

Facebook's other chat app, WhatsApp, works differently and keeps it content private by encrypting its communication data.

While Facebook Messenger has this feature it needs to be turned on manually.