Why Your Facebook Chats are Being Monitored


Your private chats and messages on Facebook may not be as private as you think. According to a report from Reuters, Facebook employs a technology that scans posts and chats for criminal activity. If something is fishy, the content is flagged and then read by an employee who will access the conversation and call the police, if necessary.

This monitoring came to light a few years ago when a man is his thirties was chatting with a 13-year old female minor from South Florida. With Facebook’s help, the police were able to commandeer the teenage girl’s computer. According to Special Agent Supervisor Jeffrey Duncan of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the information provided by Facebook allowed for the arrest of the suspect.

Reuters reports that Facebook screens for inappropriate language and exchanges of personal information and also uses records of convicted pedophiles’ online chats to teach their software what to seek out. The system also analyzes patterns of behavior. As a filter, it seeks out users who exchange abusive language and contact information. However, it also goes a step further to examine “whether a user has asked for contact information from dozens of people or tried to develop multiple deeper and potentially sexual relationship, a process known as grooming.”

Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, Joe Sullivan notes that, “We’ve never wanted to set up an environment where we have employees looking at private communications, so it’s really important that we use technology that has a very low false-positive rate,” he said. Additionally, he noted that Facebook doesn’t focus on pre-existing friendships.

While Facebook is taking some measure to ensure user privacy, and that even though thwarted sexual predators is a moral good, the invasion of personal information may cross the line into an invasion of privacy.

According to the Help Center’s Law Enforcement and Third-Party Matters on Facebook, the site states, “We may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests (including criminal and civil matters) if we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law…We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, to prevent imminent bodily harm, or to protect ourselves and you from people violating our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, courts or other government entities.”

Do you think that Facebook is doing social good by monitoring user conversations? Or do you believe that such surveillance of private dialogues is a blatant invasion of privacy?

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.