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Facebook & Messenger Chatbots — What’s the Story?

UPDATE (Apr 17, 2018): Facebook has now reopened Messenger Chatbot approvals for chatbots that are only connected to a “limited number of Facebook Pages”. This means if you have a chatbot connected to a single page (as most of them are), and you’re using a platform that requires you to create a Facebook Messenger App (i.e. you manage your customers, rather than the platform ‘owning’ the relationship) as our platform does, then you can now submit your Chatbots via the normal approval process.

With so much new coverage recently devoted to the Cambridge Analytica-driven Facebook privacy scandal, there has been much discussion around the use of data, who has access to it, how its used, and the privacy risks when considering new technology and platforms.

As Facebook has gone into internal review and audit mode, they’ve subsequently been drip-feeding new information and statements into the market about this process, and the changes it intends to implement in the wake of the privacy breach revelations.

Rightly, Facebook has placed temporary pauses on some features and delayed the release of future features, as it looks to “right the ship” on its core Facebook data privacy features that power the reach of its advertising products.

This has unfortunately led people to assume that any product or feature that is part of the broad Facebook product and brand eco-system has equally placed their private data at risk.

This is simply not the case, especially when it comes to Facebook Messenger.

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Facebook Messenger

Globally, over 1.3 billion people use Messenger to talk to friends, family and businesses every month, and unlike the core Facebook product, Facebook Messenger only has access to a user’s name (so you can greet them), language setting (so you can converse with them) and timezone (so you don’t send messages at inappropriate times). No other Facebook data is accessible to developers or their chatbots — which is why it’s only Facebook’s core product that is undergoing major reviews and changes.

Whilst Facebook has placed a temporary pause on any new Messenger chatbots being launched, it’s merely a responsible part of an audit process that’s required to ensure the integrity of their Messenger platform and the future of developers and businesses operating in this space — as well as the consumers who will interact with the Messenger platform.

Indications given by our contacts within Facebook suggest this pause is likely to be quite short; perhaps only a matter of a week or so more.

During this period, chatbots that are currently live have not been suspended, which shows there is no major concern with the data or privacy relating to Messenger.

There are also dispensations being given for new chatbots developed by proven Facebook partners who have demonstrated a responsible and ethical approach to data collection and privacy, like inGenious AI.

With ongoing internal audits and increased security and processes being implemented by Facebook daily, any potential loopholes are being closed to make the pathway clear for developers and tech providers of integrity.

Chatbots & 1st Party Data

There is no longer any value in understanding the “average” experience for a demographic across your competitors through 3rd party data; truly understanding your customers’ experience with your brand is critical, as the customer choice is now global from the start.

Now, more than ever, the value of 1st party data for businesses and agencies alike will increase exponentially.

Already, businesses have begun to realise that greater focus and budget needs to be spent on deepening engagement with their own customers and owning their own 1st party data that is relevant to the customers’ experience, preference and interactions with their brand.

The ability to create experiences that drive deeper touch-points and demonstrate preference and decision-making by customers of brands will become the centrepiece of many brand marketing departments. Beyond simply viewing an ad which leads to a simple conversion funnel, this approach will allow a brand to deliver a personalised service tailored to a customers preferences, without relying on third parties and external data.

What’s Changed?

There have been two major changes within the Facebook ecosystem:

Access to User Data: Facebook has made changes to heavily restrict access to user data within their platform, and now requires developers to undergo a review and approval process for every app that can access user data. Chatbots within Messenger already had to go through these approvals, but now it’s across all Facebook apps.

Advertising Capabilities: The powerful data-matching tool, Facebook Partner Categories, which allowed 3rd parties (like Cambridge Analytica) to use Facebook user data and combine it with their own data to further enhance ad targeting, has been consigned to the scrap-heap.

However, the highly valuable “Custom Audiences” will remain, but you now need to have permission from users to use their data in this way (which most organisation’s policies already cover).

So, what is a Facebook “Custom Audience”?

A Custom Audience from a customer list is a type of audience you can create made up of your existing customers. You can target ads to the audience you’ve created on Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Audience Network. You upload your customer list, which is then used to match the people on your list to people on Facebook.

This use of user data for targeted ads is what a majority of people are comfortable with when using a product like Facebook. Users know that they’ve shared a lot of data with Facebook and are comfortable with it being used for targeted ads, but they rightfully expect it to remain securely within the Facebook ecosystem, and not be shared with 3rd parties.

So, What’s Next?

What’s true of almost every scandal or crisis is that the ensuing public outcry and increased scrutiny always results in fresh perspectives, refocused and renewed processes, and greater opportunities.

The reality of the current audit is that Facebook’s new privacy policies and data protections will provide a higher level of trust for both the 1.3 billion users of Messenger, and companies developing on the Messenger platform.

The actions Facebook are now taking to preserve our privacy will be closely watched by the world, and now the world is also more aware of how the data they share may be used. This is a positive step towards the privacy users expected, and will be demanding in the future.


Facebook & Messenger Chatbots — What’s the Story? was originally published in Chatbots Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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