I'm Glad Facebook Is Reading Your Instant Messages

Facebook scans, and sometimes reads, your Facebook Messenger instant messages, the company confirmed to Bloomberg News yesterday (April 4). Believe it or not, however, this sounds like a good thing rather than an invasion of privacy.

Credit: Fizkes/Shutterstock

(Image credit: Fizkes/Shutterstock)

What happens is that Facebook's computers scan each Messenger message for malicious or questionable links or images, the company said. If the computers find something suspicious, they pass the message on to human moderators, and if the humans determine that the message does contain objectionable content, it is blocked or deleted.

But don't get out the pitchforks just yet. Facebook's algorithms are looking for child pornography, malware and incitement to genocide. (Don't scoff: Social media has been used to stir up vigilante mobs in Myanmar's ongoing ethnic-cleansing campaign, for example.)

The algorithms make sure that the messages conform to Facebook's "community standards," the same set of standards to which regular Facebook posts must adhere.

MORE: The Quick and Dirty Facts About Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

I'm glad that Facebook Messenger isn't being used to spread malware or kiddie porn, or to incite mass killings. No company wants to be associated with that sort of thing, and most Facebook users would be happy not to see it pop up in their feeds or messages.

In any case, if you're bothered by the notion of Facebook reading your messages, there are dozens of other communications platforms that offer greater privacy — and, for better or for worse, have fewer restrictions on what you can disseminate.

You can start with Facebook's own WhatsApp, which encrypts messages end-to-end so that only the sender and recipient — not the company itself — can read them. If you're so inclined, you can delve into the darker depths of the internet to find all sorts of horrible things to discuss. Just don't expect Facebook, or me, to help you.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.