How Facebook scans private messages
Facebook Messenger automatically scans images and links in private messages. If a chat is reported as inappropriate, even a human moderator will read along.
The company wants to keep illegal photos, videos and scam messages out of its network.
In addition, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg can delete messages that have been sent. Normal users cannot use the function.
The message is short: It contains two emojis with torn mouths and the first name of the recipient – also a link that seems to refer to YouTube. Clicking on the link, however, will not take you to Youtube, but to another website that automatically downloads presumably defective software.
At first glance, the link in the message looks as if it would lead to YouTube. The truth is, there’s an attempt at fraud. You should never click on the link, but report the message to Facebook.
If it went to Facebook, such scam messages should not even be possible in Messenger, the service of the network for private messages. If a user reports a chat, even human moderators read the messages in a second step. You should check whether the content is compatible with Facebook guidelines and delete the chat if in doubt.
Most users of the messenger may not know that machines and also human employees have access to their private chats. The company confirmed this practice to the business service Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg had previously betrayed it in an interview – possibly involuntarily. A few days earlier, he had told the Vox.com website that the company had been chats tracking down and deleting messages aimed at inciting people against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.
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Algorithms match photos with known illegal images
To check photos and links, Facebook uses the same software that the company uses to automatically check public posts. For example, a program compares uploaded photos and videos with a black list containing known child pornography content. Links are scanned for viruses and malware. The latter does not yet seem to work 100 percent, as a survey of the SZ editorial staff shows. Again and again messages come through that contain dubious links. The spread of the fake YouTube link has meanwhile been stopped, a Facebook spokesman said upon request. If you receive such a message, you should never click on the link. Users can report the message to Facebook and should inform the sender that their account is sending scam messages. This speeds up the test.
Facebook checks the images and videos using algorithms. The algorithms calculate hash values from known illegal images and videos. These are combinations of numbers and letters that do not allow outsiders to draw any conclusions about the original image and are a kind of digital fingerprint. If a user uploads a photo as a post or in Messenger, the software compares the hash value. For example, if the value matches the hash value of a child pornographic image that is already blacklisted, the upload is blocked. The case is reported to a human moderator. If it turns out that the image shows prohibited content, Facebook will block the user. Other upload filters, such as Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, which is used against child pornography and terrorist propaganda, as well as Content ID, which Youtube uses to detect copyright infringements, also work according to a similar principle.
In November 2017, Facebook announced that it was testing such a technology in Australia. Users should upload nude photos to the Facebook Messenger and send them to themselves. The upload is encrypted, the images are deleted after the hash value has been created. The company promises to protect users against revenge porn by malicious ex-partners.
Zuckerberg could delete sent messages
The fact that Facebook reads private messages is not the only new insight about Messenger from the past few days. Zuckerberg and other high-ranking employees of the company have the possibility to delete messages already sent, reports TechCrunch. Normal users can’t, but many may dream of it. In an initial statement, the company cited security reasons: After the Sony hack in 2014, the company wanted to protect the potentially sensitive messages from hacker attacks. Apparently Zuckerberg’s older news was deleted, but not all. This indicates that the company has specifically removed certain messages. In Facebooks “Community”, which Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly conjures up, managers apparently have freedoms that ordinary users do not possess.
Just a little later, Facebook announced: The “Unsend” function for all users has been discussed for some time anyway. In a few months all Facebook users should be able to delete their messages in Messenger afterwards. Until then, the company promises not to take back or delete any of Zuckerberg’s messages. Facebook apologizes again and sounds – as it did after similar revelations – like a blamed schoolboy: “We should have done it earlier – and we’re sorry we didn’t do it”.
Already now Messenger users can set in the so-called secret conversations that their messages are deleted after a certain time (between five seconds and 24 hours) as soon as they have been read. Similar to Whatsapp, which belongs to Facebook, users can also enable end-to-end encryption in Messenger. In the app, tap on your profile picture and move the slider to the right under the tab “Secret conversations”. In addition, you must start a secret conversation with the respective chat partner; the layout is then black instead of blue. Facebook can also read the encrypted messages when users alert the company with the Report button. In this case a moderator will receive a screenshot of the conversation.
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