Facebook is jumping into the video chat game with Messenger Rooms, a new feature that allows up to 50 people to take part in a video chat, even if they don't have Facebook accounts. The social media giant hopes to tap into the explosive success seen by video communications app Zoom, which has been used by millions all over the world as coronavirus lockdowns have pushed work, school and social lives into the digital sphere.
Zoom, which has seen a meteoric rise in users since the coronavirus pandemic began, has been plagued by reports of hackers disrupting meetings and classes, sometimes shouting racial slurs and displaying pornographic images.
Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan said the oversight was in part the result of their lack of preparedness for such a huge influx of new users, and he called that a "mistake" during an April 2 appearance on "CBS This Morning." The company said it was taking steps to improve security for its users.
Stan Chudnovsky, head of Facebook Messenger, told CBSN anchors Vladimir Duthiers and Anne-Marie Green that Messenger Rooms would not have such issues when it's rolled out in the U.S., despite a lack of end-to-end encryption.
"We are definitely very secure and encrypted, from the client to the server and from the server to another client," he said.
What that means, he explained, was that the new app is "not accessible by hackers any more than it can be accessed by anybody else when you are using your email" because joining a conference requires the user to be emailed a link.
The way Messenger Rooms is set up, a user emails a link to up to 50 people. If a member does not have an account, they are taken to a browser window where they are prompted to enter their first name before continuing on to the video chat.
The name, Chudnovsky said, is only required so the users can keep track of participants.
He said Facebook was "uniquely positioned" to provide communications services that connect people online, and that video calling has been a part of Facebook's products for years.
Naturally, with Facebook's well-documented history of privacy issues, questions may arise over the privacy of Messenger Rooms users, particularly those without Facebook accounts.
"It actually doesn't give us data that actually we wouldn't have had before," Chudnovsky said. "And we are most definitely not listening or watching anything that's happening over there."
He said the company would not be harvesting any specific information outside of what it is already known to collect in regular operations and Messenger video calls.
"Whatever happens in your living room needs to stay in your living room," he said.
Chudnovsky compared using Messenger Rooms to a "normal video call," with the content of the call staying between the user and whoever they are speaking to.
"That's one of the reasons why we though the name 'Rooms' is perfect, because you're there with your friends and with your loved ones, with people you are close to," he said. "And when you're there, whatever has been said, it's been said between you and the people that you care about and it should stay between you and people you care about."
From that standpoint, Chudnovsky said Facebook has "no access to whatever conversation you're having with your friends."
"And we are not using it in any way, shape or form to help any other parts of the businesses," he said.