It seems that Facebook is setting itself up as an enemy of endeavors to protect privacy even as it tries to argue how such attempts do more harm than good. In Europe, it is trying to explain why some features in Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram have suddenly become unavailable in order to comply with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (ePrivacy Directive). In the same breath, however, it is also suggesting that this new regulation could actually put users in more danger because Facebook won’t be able to report harmful content and activity.
In a nutshell, the ePrivacy Directive forbids companies from keeping and processing metadata that comes with the actual content of messages. This applies not just to the likes of SMS and e-mail but also to “over-the-top” messaging systems, like instant messengers.
It was already revealed that Facebook has temporarily turned off certain Messenger and Instagram features in Europe as it works to comply with the directive. Even users outside the region who are trying to use those features when talking with someone in the EU will not be able to do so. Facebook says it has prioritized returning core features to the services but some, like polls, might take some time because those, by nature, require the use of metadata.
The social media giant, however, hints at a more severe consequence of the ePrivacy Directive beyond not being able to make chat polls. It claims that it hinders messaging and calling services to detect and respond to harmful content and activities, like child abuse and illegal materials. The writing between the lines pretty much means Facebook will be putting the blame on the European Commission if such incidents start to rise in the region.
It might be debatable whether that will really be the case and whether Facebook can’t develop some other means to prevent such harmful use of its services. It is, however, hardly arguable that the social network also uses that kind of metadata for other purposes that ultimately benefits the company itself, possibly to a profit even.