Facebook may be turning its Messenger feature into a new way for advertisers to reach Facebook users, CNET reports. Users will first have to click on prompts in the News Feed to message brands, but once that step is made, advertisers will be able to follow up with those users by initiating further conversations.
Facebook has already let advertisers use branded Messenger chatbots to communicate with users, but until now, those users had to initiate the conversations. Users might see offers to start further conversations with brands in the News Feed as early as this week, and if one does so, the brand will be able to send you unsolicited messages in the future.
Facebook vice president of messaging products David Marcus told CNET that Facebook doesn't expect consumers to mind, adding that while he once "was very concerned," he is "not concerned" anymore.
This might mean it's time for some users to consider unfriending Messenger, before it turns into another vector for ads to fill your screen. Facebook will let you block brands if you don't approve of their messages, but does that sound like enough? Shouldn't the company only let advertisers send you alerts after you provide active consent?
Advertisers will likely lure users to chat with offers, as that's already an avenue of engagement on Facebook, with Activision, Absolut and Lyft distributing codes for services on the site. Maybe the upcoming deals will be too good to pass up, but if you only engage with those ads on Facebook.com, you will at least only encounter them when you navigate to the site.
"Facebook is good at targeting users with ads that meet their precise needs, but it runs the risk of falling apart in terms of the user experience," said Trip Chowdhry, managing director of the Global Equity Research financial firm. "People thought Messenger was only for conversations with friends, and adding corporations to the app will take away from it."
Chowdhry noted that the new feature could become "a problem for usability," as it doesn't take much "to fill a small screen with ads."
This may concern users who rely on the messaging service, as Facebook has made it harder to message directly from smartphone browsers. Facebook messaging was still possible using Chrome or Safari on iOS when we checked this morning, but you sometimes have to X-out the prompt to download the stand-alone Messenger app.
On the other hand, Android browsers now push you straight to the Messenger entry in the Google Play store if you try to message through the Facebook web page. There is one workaround: From facebook.com, tap the three-dots icon on the upper right, select Request Desktop Site and reload. You'll get a mobile-unfriendly version of Facebook, but you'll be able to use Messenger in the browser.