Your supposedly private chats with friends on Facebook may not be as private as you had hoped. Some social platforms – including Facebook – are apparently monitoring users’ chats for signs of criminal activity, and notifying the police if any suspicious behaviour is detected.
Before I start scaremongering people by saying Facebook has people reading your chats, it must be pointed out that the screening process is carried out by software that will only alert a human if certain words phrases or discrepancies are flagged. By discrepancies we’re talking about chats between users who don’t have a well-established connection on Facebook, and whose profiles indicate a significant age gap.
The scanning program is also “smart” in the way that it is set up to monitor phrases found in previously obtained chat transcripts from criminals, particularly sexual predators. Only once enough red flags are raised will the software notify Facebook security employees, who will then determine on a case by case basis whether or not the police should be notified.
These new details about Facebook’s monitoring system were revealed by Joe Sullivan – the company’s Chief Security Officer – in an interview with Reuters. In the interview he revealed that as a direct result of Facebook’s chat scanning, at least one alleged child predator has been brought to trial.
This is a very difficult issue to navigate. My personal opinion on the matter leans towards supporting chat monitoring – I have nothing to hide in the eyes of the law, so if scanning conversations can prevent just one child from being abused or stop one person being the victim of fraud, then I have no problem with scanning software patrolling Facebook. After all, we all feel a lot safer when we know that the police are walking their beats.
The main issue for some may be that this highlights the fact that our private chats are most likely being stored by Facebook. Perhaps the more unsettling thought is that however innocent the content may be, a monitoring program can find certain words pertaining to possible criminal activity within your chats. Would you be happy with Facebook storing the flag “potential child abuser” against your account?”
What are your thoughts on this? Are Facebook acting responsibly by trying to prevent criminal activity from happening on their network, or have they overstepped the line of privacy?