Facebook Messenger’s creepy test of Conversation Topics

Need some more help choosing an inane conversation topic with your online friends? Don’t panic! Facebook appears keen to help you.

As Uber employee Chris Messina spotted over the weekend, Facebook is running a “small test” that purports to help Messenger users start a chat by offering conversation starters.


What may make some users feel uncomfortable about “Conversation Topics”, however, is that it is – quelle surprise! – using information that Facebook has learnt about your friends, such as places they have been, events they are planning to attend, or music to which they have been listening to help it suggest what you might want to talk about.

To be fair, this is information that your Facebook friends have chosen to share already on Facebook – although you may not have noticed amid the endless stream of inane memes and cat videos.

What will undoubtedly make some folks feel creeped-out, however, is the rising realisation of just how much Facebook has been learning about people (and by extension you), and its ability to mine this personal information for its own ends.

And, if you’re one of those people (and let’s face it, this is probably most Facebook users) who has added hundreds of people to your Facebook friends circle who aren’t actually close friends then there’s an inevitable creepy feeling that it’s now become easier than ever for a non-close friend to suddenly be reaching out to you to discuss your hobbies or recent outings.

Don’t agree? Put yourself in the shoes of a young woman, with a gaggle of male acquaintances in her social network, who might soon be invited to start a chat about the young woman’s favourite bar, ask her what she thought of the Hollywood blockbuster she saw last night, or ask if she’ll be at the same dance class next Wednesday.

It’s worth bearing in mind, of course, that Facebook has carried out plenty of experiments in the past, offering a small subset of users a feature, before eventually turning it either into a new facility that’s available to everyone or quietly dumped.

But if Facebook does push “Conversation Topics” to the masses, it will be interesting to see if the social networking giant will care about adding extra granularity into its privacy settings – giving users a choice as to whether their Facebook ‘friends’ will be offered suggestions on how to start a chat with them.

Ultimately, as ever with Facebook, the most important decision will be about what information you choose to share with Facebook, and how you use privacy settings to determine who it gets shared with.

Author Graham Cluley, We Live Security

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