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Facebook Messenger ads might behave like voluntary text spam

If you notice an uptick in brands asking you to message them on Facebook, it might be tied to a new advertising program coming soon.

According to a leaked document seen by by TechCrunch, Facebook’s plan is to let companies send message-based ads to users, on one condition: The user must have previously initiated a conversation with that company.

For instance, if you write to a company on Facebook with a customer service issue, that company might be able to send you future messages about promotions or new items in stock. In the leaked document, Facebook reportedly encourages companies to have their customers start message threads now, so that those brands can be ready to advertise when the feature rolls out.

It’s unclear whether Facebook plans to alert users that they’ve effectively signed up for message ads, or whether they’ll be able to opt out. The company wouldn’t comment to TechCrunch on the leaked document itself, but said “our aim with Messenger is to create a high quality, engaging experience for 800 million people around the world, and that includes ensuring people do not experience unwanted messages of any type.”

As TechCrunch points out, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has dismissed the idea of ads in Messenger in early 2014, when Facebook acquired the messaging app WhatsApp. “I personally don’t think ads are the right way to monetize messaging,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

The impact on you at home: Messenger ads could be beneficial for everyone if done right—alerting loyal customers to sale items, for example—but could backfire if businesses are able to abuse the feature. Here’s hoping Facebook puts controls in place for users to keep spam out.

IDG Insider

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