Facebook fights Messenger spam with Asimov’s three rules of bots

The big risk of Facebook launching the Messenger platform was that spammy bots could drown out your friends. Now Facebook is formalizing rules to prevent that because before, there were none.

Messenger API experiences may only respond to users who initiate conversations. They can only reply within 24 hours, and once more after that for reengagement. Subscription Messaging that requires an opt-in to spontaneously ping people may only be used for news, productivity, and personal health and finance tracker bots.

All developers must submit their Messenger integrations for an approval process which Facebook will complete within five days. Existing developers on the Messenger Platform have three months to comply, and existing subscription apps must be submitted for approval within six months.

You can find the nitty-gritty of the policy here. Previously, there were no restrictions on when bots could message people once the conversation started, and every developer could build a subscription bot. The only protection was that users would block bots that pissed them off.

13939278_561619504009682_1987137733_nThe rules are reminiscent of sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov’s Three Rules Of Robotics.

  • A robot may not injure a human being – no Messenger bot spam after 24 hours
  • A robot must obey orders given it by human beings – subscription messaging only for specific use cases
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law – Messenger bots must be approved by Facebook

These policies are critical for preventing the dehumanization of Messenger.

Facebook launched its bot platform at F8 in April, but it seemed a bit half-baked. Early examples were mediocre, and developers lacked the tools to optimize the experiences they built.

Bot spam threatened to train users to leave Facebook messages unopened, which in turn could make them less likely to reply to friends. If people suspect that Messenger is an overloaded channel like email, they may resort to SMS — a clunkier, outdated but low-spam medium.

Facebook Messenger Platform

What the Facebook Messenger desperately needs next is an analytics suite to allow developers to pinpoint exactly what they do that annoys users. This way they can tweak their bots to maximize utility and minimize interruption. Facebook Messenger’s VP of Product Stan Chudnovsky promised promised this analytics product¬†was coming when he spoke with me at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in May, but there’s still no sign of it.

With Facebook having trounced the rest of the chat app pack except for WhatsApp which it bought, and WeChat beyond its domain, SMS is Messenger’s true competitor. While the future of messaging may involve AI bots at our beck and call, Facebook jeopardizes its basic use case if spam spirals out of control. Today Facebook shows its committed to a humans-first Messenger.