On Thursday, Facebook officially announced its move to introduce more safety features for its Messenger users. It's a triple-pronged approach with some political message baked into it. Will it radically improve Facebook's platform abuse problem? Unlikely. But it shows that Mark Zuckerberg and his team are trying to charm the public as many display ambivalence and mistrust toward his massive social network empire.
Three birds, one stone — Dubbed "safety notices," Messenger will act like a little helper from now on. If you're talking to someone and they ask for money out of nowhere, Messenger will essentially tap you on the shoulder and pop up a "Steps you can take" alert. These steps will suggest what you should do in order to avoid a potential scam or fraud. The feature goes live for both iOS and Android users. Here's what the alert looks like.
Minors, too, are a focal point of this safety feature. According to Facebook, individual users below the age of 18 will now receive alerts if an adult is attempting to engage in an inappropriate conversation. The alert has received praise from internet safety advocates, including the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, Stephen Balkam. "It’s important to use language that empowers people to make wise decisions and think more critically about who they’re interacting with online. We’re especially glad to see this reflected in the thoughtful approach around safety considerations for younger users," Balkam said.
The third alert concerns scams and imposters. As Input has reported before, Facebook has a scam problem. It's pretty ugly and pervasive. To help users avoid becoming targets of fraud, Facebook will alert them if someone is using their friend's or family member's name. It's a common fraudulent tactic online and could use some digital disinfectant.
What Facebook says — Jay Sullivan, Facebook's director of product management, Messenger privacy and safety, wrote in an official blog post:
As we move to end-to-end encryption, we are investing in privacy-preserving tools like this to keep people safe without accessing message content. We developed these safety tips with machine learning that looks at behavioral signals like an adult sending a large amount of friend or message requests to people under 18. This ensures that the new features will be available and effective when Messenger is end-to-end encrypted.
Juggling encryption and safety — For years now, federal authorities as well as several lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for backdoor access into Facebook. So far, the company has resisted these demands even amid heightened criticism about Facebook's lack of community safety.
With the new alert introduction, Facebook appears to be attempting two things at once: convince its user base as well as the general public, including the government, that it is invested in its community's well-being while also sending a clear signal that its end-to-end encryption will go on — no matter what.