Facebook Messenger Rooms will be available in some countries this week while the rest of the world will get them in the coming weeks.
Spurred by seemingly popular demand, Facebook is launching a dedicated tool called Messenger Rooms that will allow “anyone” to video chat with up to 50 people. It takes no genius to figure, Messenger Rooms are Facebook’s answer to Zoom and also Houseparty, video calling platforms that have taken the world by storm in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Just like Zoom and Houseparty, video calling on Messenger Rooms will be as simple as creating and sharing a “room” link with others. And just like Zoom and Houseparty, Messenger Rooms will NOT be completely “private”, though Facebook says it is “actively” working on bringing end-to-end encryption to both Messenger and Rooms.
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Facebook Messenger Rooms — why they exist?
So, why is Facebook launching a dedicated en masse video calling tool now? It’s because “between WhatsApp and Messenger, more than 700 million accounts participate in calls every day. In many countries, video calling on Messenger and WhatsApp more than doubled, and views of Facebook Live and Instagram Live videos increased significantly in March.”
In other words, there’s demand for an en masse video calling product and even though Facebook has confirmed that it’s working on increasing the participant count on WhatsApp for this, from four to eight, Messenger remains its “flagship” product, where it’s technically allowed to experiment with new tricks without breaking existing security protocols. All WhatsApp chats, including video calls, are end-to-end encrypted by default while on Messenger, they are not. Plus, “there are significant challenges to providing end-to-end encryption for video calling with large groups of people.”
Facebook Messenger Rooms — what do they do?
Anyone can theoretically video chat using Messenger Rooms, though you must have a Facebook account to create a room. Rooms can be created via Facebook or Messenger alone for now, though Facebook says it is working on ways to create rooms from Instagram Direct, WhatsApp and Portal, also. A room invite can be shared on Facebook through News Feed, Groups and Events — it can also be shared by manually sending the link to others — but you’ll only see it if it’s open to you.
You can then choose to join in directly from your Feed or Group. For everyone else, Messenger Rooms will not require you to download Facebook or Messenger to start chatting, though having a Messenger app for instance will help you get “more” out of your video calls through fancy AR effects, and AI-powered features like immersive 360 backgrounds and mood lighting.
Messenger Rooms video calling will work across mobile and PC.
The host or the creator of a Messenger Room will be in control of who they wish to allow to see the room (in Feed) and join in. They can choose to lock a room (once a call begins) as well as remove participants. You’re also allowed to “report” a room if you think it violates Facebook’s community standards.
Facebook Messenger Rooms — the privacy question
Facebook says it WILL collect data from Messenger Rooms regardless of whether you joined through one of its apps or without logging into an account. In the case of the latter, that data will include your device and browser type, your product usage information, and technical information. As with most of its other products, Facebook needs this information to provide the service and improve the product experience. Facebook is also quick to point out that it WON’T watch or listen to your audio or video calls, and audio and video from Messenger Rooms won’t be used to inform ads. Facebook won’t show ads inside Messenger Rooms either. As an extra step, Facebook says it’s also making Messenger Room links difficult for hackers to guess.
Facebook’s motives may be pro-consumer here, but the thing is, it MUST share some data like the name of a room and who’s in it, with “outside” vendors to make its platform(s) better and even though it requires these partners to “adhere” to strict data confidentiality and security obligations, cases like the Cambridge Analytica scandal have shown, all of this is easier said than done.
In the meanwhile, Facebook has started rolling out Messenger Rooms in some countries this week and it is looking to expand the service to the rest of the world in the coming weeks.