Facebook May Be Reading Your Messages to See if You've Committed a Crime

Say What!? 11

I think most of us probably realize that there's really no such thing as complete online privacy. The photos we post, the information we share -- it's pretty much all up for grabs, despite increasingly complicated privacy settings and overall user paranoia.

Still, even though I've read story after story about websites that abuse user tracking policies and can be forced into turning over personal information, I was still a little surprised to hear that Facebook runs software that scans its users' posts and chat messages for "objectionable content." As in criminal activity, sometimes.

In other words, if you're talking about the wrong things on Facebook, you could get in big, BIG trouble. As in, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go directly to jail.

Back in March, Facebook's scanning software spotted a conversation that didn't look good: a man in his 30s was allegedly trying to set up a meeting with a 13-year-old Florida girl for sex. The activity was flagged for Facebook employees, who read it and immediately called the police.

The man was arrested the next day, and has since pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of soliciting a minor.

Facebook's sophisticated monitoring tools do a lot more than just filter out "bad" words -- they analyze patterns of behavior, including archives of real chats that preceded sex assaults. The company also says its system doesn't spend too much time probing what it believes are pre-existing relationships.

According to Facebook’s chief security officer, the social media giant works hard to ensure no innocent people are targeted:

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.

When you consider the case of some sleazy adult soliciting a 13-year-old girl, Facebook's eavesdropping doesn't seem intrusive -- if anything, it seems like a welcome technological advancement. Hey, who doesn't want to bust a sex predator, right? He lost his right to privacy when he broke the law!

Still, the truth is that Facebook is always listening. Our conversations are being scanned for any intention to commit sexual assault, and while we might be okay with that, who knows what other topics Facebook is searching for. Or will be, in the future.

Are you surprised to know that Facebook scans your conversations for criminal activity?


Image via thefoxling/Flickr

facebook, privacy