Facebook is disabling several features in its Messenger and Instagram apps for people in Europe, to make sure they comply with a change in privacy rules.
From 21 December, messaging apps will fall under EU rules known as the ePrivacy directive.
Facebook has decided to switch off several interactive options and offer just a core messaging service until it can add the extras back in.
Group chat polls on Messenger are among the tools to be switched off.
The ability to set nicknames for friends on Messenger will also be deactivated, while the sharing of augmented-reality face filters via direct message on Instagram will also be switched off in Europe.
Facebook said it had not published a list of all the features it was suspending in Europe because it would be quickly reactivating ones that it was confident complied with the rules.
The core text messaging and calling options on Instagram and Messenger will not be affected.
“We’re still determining the best way to bring these features back. It takes time to rebuild products in a way that work seamlessly for people and also comply with new regulation,” the company said in a statement.
There’s nothing in the ePrivacy directive that bans the use of fun stickers or polls in messaging apps, so Facebook’s move to disable them is a bit puzzling.
Its vague notification alerting users that “some features [are] not available” raised more questions than it answered.
It is quite possible that Instagram and Messenger polls and selfie stickers did nothing to violate the new rules – but Facebook wants to play it safe and offer a stripped-back messaging service until it can add the extras back in.
The ePrivacy directive is designed to limit what companies can do with your messages and the metadata – such as when they were sent – attached to them.
It also prohibits the interception or surveillance of communications and metadata without explicit consent from those involved.
Email services are not allowed to scan messages to show – for example – personalised advertisements without permission from the account holder.
In the last few weeks, Google’s Gmail has prompted its users to opt in or out of “smart features” such as sentence prediction, which requires the text to be scanned.
Now that the ePrivacy directive applies to so-called “over the top” messaging services such as Facebook as well as traditional telecoms companies, we may see more apps update their policies or limit features.
Cris Fox uk