Facebook Messenger to be filled with robots that will try to sell users things based on their data

The new platform is being promoted as a way to buy things – but it’ll also be a way for companies to bother you if you’re not buying enough

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 13 April 2016 11:05
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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook’s new Messenger robots will be able to message people when companies think that they’re not buying enough.

The site introduced its new chatbot platform at its F8 conference, proclaiming that it could change sales and customer service by allowing people to talk to artificially intelligent machines run by companies. But those same companies will be able to pay to send messages to people telling them to buy more things.

And all of those messages will be integrated within the Messenger platform, which people most commonly use to talk with friends. Facebook has pitched that platform as an entire – complete with news organisations and companies – but it is primarily used as a means of having personal and private conversations.

With the new chatbots, if a company is concerned that you haven’t chatted to it for a while, it will be able to send a sponsored message – reminding users that they exist, offering special deals or highlighting products that a user might have Liked but hasn’t yet bought.

Facebook presented the new bots primarily as a way of chatting to companies to get help from them. But it will also be a way of the companies getting in touch with people to advertise to them.

Those sponsored messages will be limited in a number of ways, according to Facebook vice president David Marcus. Companies will only be able to contact people who are already customers or have been in contact with the business before, and users will be able to block future messages from specific businesses.

The company is increasingly concerned that ads on Facebook and other apps like Instagram are driving people off the site. It has taken steps to limit the number of video ads on people’s news feeds, for instance, and is likely to install similar protections with the chatbots.

"It's a very high-quality, personal environment," said Mr Marcus in an interview. "We want to keep it that way."

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