Facebook has launched a new group video chat feature as virtual communication continues to prove popular during lockdown.
The new feature, called Messenger Rooms, can be accessed on Facebook or Facebook Messenger and allows up to 50 people to join a video call.
To compete with other video call apps, Facebook's Messenger Rooms includes 360-degree augmented reality background filters.
Messenger Rooms comes after people have complained of security and privacy issues with Zoom, which reportedly saw uninvited people, known as ‘Zoombombers’, joining calls.
When did Facebook’s feature first launch?
Facebook said in a press statement that since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of video and voice calls seen daily on Facebook Messenger and Facebook-owned WhatsApp, has increased by more than double in some locations.
This urged the company to release the feature earlier than it had originally planned.
In April 2020 Facebook Messenger Rooms was initially only available to a select few countries and users, including some users in the UK.
However the feature was made available globally, to all users, a few weeks later by mid May 2020.
Can I join a call if I don’t have a Facebook account?
The feature is not just exclusive to those who have a Facebook account, as it allows people without an account to join the calls.
Additionally, Facebook has announced plans to add the video feature to its other owned platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp "soon".
Calls are free and users are not restricted by any time limits for the feature.
What privacy features does it have?
While Facebook has very publicly faced several security and privacy problems in the past CEO Mark Zuckerberg clarified in a livestream earlier this month that the company has been "very careful" in trying to "learn the lessons" vicariously from other video conference services.
Additionally, when questioned about potential video call spying, the company confirmed that Facebook doesn't listen in to any video chat calls.
Facebook Messenger Rooms includes privacy protections such as visibility settings, which allow the user to control who can see their room.
Users can lock or unlock their room to the public. If a call is unlocked, anyone can access the call so long as they have the invite link, which can be shared freely among people.
The creator of the Messenger room has full control over who can join, and can remove, block and report participants at any time. They also need to be present in order to initiate the call.
However, the new feature has drawn criticisms claiming these options give users a false sense of privacy.
Such claims have arisen since Messenger Rooms collects the same personal data as Facebook does, under the same collection policies.
Facebook’s policy includes the sharing of user’s personal information with third parties.
Speaking to Forbes, Rowenna Fielding, a privacy expert and head of individual rights and ethics at data protection firm, Protecture said “Privacy settings on Facebook don’t protect data from Facebook, or its partners’ exploitation of the data.
“Data mining and profiling are the core of their business model–governance and ethics have been notably absent from the start and continue to be so.”
How can I create a Facebook Messenger Room?
If you want to create a Facebook Messenger Room on your phone, first you need to update your Facebook and Messenger mobile apps to the latest version available.
Once you have the most recent version of the apps, follow the below instructions:
1. Open the Messenger app
2. Tap the ‘People’ icon found on the bottom right of your screen
3. Tap ‘Create a Room’
4. Select the people who you wish to join the call
5. If you want to invite people who don't have a Facebook account, you can select the option “Share link” which will allow you to send the invite by text, email, and Whatsapp, as well as in your Facebook news feed, in groups and even events.
On desktop, to open a new room simply click the video camera icon found next to the ‘Contacts’ bar on the right of your homepage. This will open a new window for your room.