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Facebook Admits to Scanning Private Messages, Releases Privacy Policy Updates

Facebook is scanning private messages its users are sending to each other over Facebook Messenger, the company admitted in response to a Bloomberg story Wednesday. Separately, the company also announced updates to its privacy policies with simpler explanations on the types of data it gathers.

Questions about the company’s monitoring of Messenger messages had arisen after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had told Vox in a recent interview that the company had done so in Myanmar, shutting down conversations that were meant to incite violence.

On Wednesday, the company said that it has automated tools in place to scan links sent over Messenger for malware and viruses. It also analyses any images shared via Messenger to detect known child pornography, and monitors messages for other violations of its terms of service. The company said that this was similar to what other messaging services are doing.

Facebook has been under the microscope for possible privacy violations ever since news broke that Trump campaign-linked Cambridge Analytica had used a Facebook app to download data on 50 million U.S. users from the service. In response to the increased scrutiny, Facebook also published a draft version of a newly-worded privacy policy Wednesday.

The policy doesn’t fundamentally change how Facebook treats the data of its users, but explains these uses in more detail, said chief privacy officer Erin Egan and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer in a joint blog post.

“We explain the services we offer in language that’s easier to read,” they wrote. “We’re also updating our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it in Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and other products.”

The two executives explained that the new policy isn’t set in stone yet, but that the company was looking for input from its users. “For the next seven days, you’ll be able to provide your feedback on the terms and data policy,” they said. “Once finalized, we’ll publish these documents and ask you to agree to them on Facebook, along with information about the choices you have over your privacy.”

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