What you need to know about GDPR and Facebook Messenger bots

Many of us had an easy laugh at some questions Mark Zuckerberg got when he testified in Congress. That’s why almost everybody missed one important topic senators and Zuckerberg spoke about: the implications of GDPR.


GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It’s a new data privacy law in Europe that is coming on the 25th of May and, in short, will change the internet.

First of all, there is nearly no internet company which is unaffected by these new regulations and second, these regulations are much more powerful than any other data privacy law before. GDPR will give dedicated European authorities the power to enforce the new data protection law. Whoever is not complying will see sanctions up to 4% of the annual turnover or 20 million EURO. Facebook knows that GDPR is aimed at companies like them. After Cambridge Analytica, they will make sure that they don’t violate any privacy law again.

Be smart: Cambridge Analytica was a third party violating privacy rules. Facebook won’t let happen that again. That applies for every third party on any of their platforms.

For the Business to Messenger platform and Facebook Messenger bots GDPR will have many implications you should be aware of.

4 things about Facebook Messenger and GDPR that you should probably change immediately:

  • Privacy Policies: If you don’t have a privacy policy yet, you have to draft one. Without a privacy policy, you are not compliant. You have to link your privacy policy in your bot.
  • Data processing agreements: If you are using third parties or are yourself a typical third party you have to have data processing agreements with all your partners. That is an additional contract you have to negotiate, so you should start with that immediately if you don’t have it yet.
  • Stop: You have to provide an easy way for the user to stop messages from your bot. If your bot doesn’t have a convenient option to opt out, … you should add this.
  • User rights & complaints: Users now have many different information rights. Law firms, competitors, or activists can use that rights to check if your organization is compliant. Be prepared to get this requests on how you save and protect personal data.

The Messenger team also created a little FAQ, which you can find here. It’s helpful if you are already familiar with the implications of GDPR. If that is not the case, or you want to dig deeper into the topic and how to comply I recommend to read our whitepaper. On 20 pages we explain the basic concepts of GDPR and how to comply if you as a business are using Facebook Messenger bots.

Facebook just quietly launched a major update on the Messenger platform 🤖

Last April, Facebook introduced chatbots. In November, instant games. Two weeks ago, they launch yet another integration on Messenger.

In a little over a month, Facebook’s developer conference f8 will be taking place in San Jose, CA.

All eyes will be on Facebook’s Developer conference, as the company is expected to make some big announcements. Two weeks ago, Facebook released the Facebook Messenger platform v1.4 and it already shows the shift in directions regarding their approach to Messenger.

Facebook announced the “Business on Messenger” platform as part of their 10 year strategy.

The goal from Mark Zuckerberg to connect all kinds of businesses with the over a billion Messenger users is nothing less than creating a new operating system. iOs and Android with its apps are running the mobile world, but Facebook with both platforms — Facebook platform and Messenger — is in a good position to create one app to rule them all, because of its high penetration.

WeChat got a 3 year headstart on messaging integrations. It already is the messaging platform for China that Messenger is striving to become for the western world. Most of the online-offline services, including e-commerce, transportation, payment and many more are integrated and most used over WeChat.

Bearing this in mind “Business on Messenger” attracted thousands of engineers and entrepreneurs. They developed over 40.000 bots and created one of the biggest (media) hypes in 2016.

Bearing this in mind “Business on Messenger” attracted thousands of developers, entrepreneurs to develop chatbots and created one of the biggest (media) hypes in 2016.

But despite the hype, Facebook is not in a rush.

After the launch of “Business on Messenger“ and early difficulties Facebook continued to improve the platform. New features for the integration of chatbots rolled out every few weeks, and Facebook was in quite open discussions with many developers in Facebook groups. The pace was so fast that many developers and start ups had difficulties integrating all the features and improvements in their products.

Besides the ambitious timeline for integrating chatbots in Messengers as the business to customer connection, Facebook also launched instant games in November of 2016. The viral basketball game 🏀 for f8 was demonstrating the potential of HTML5 minigames in Messenger, and with the update Pacman x y z, many more were following.

The third integration in Messenger

The lastest update of Business on Messenger came as unexpected to many. The Facebook Messenger platform v1.4 release includes several updates providing a sneak peak into what will be presented at f8, but the most interesting update was the “enhanced menu structure.”

The enhanced menu structure contains multiple changes. The persistent menu got upgraded from a small helpful feature to a very prominent persistent menu with submenus right in the middle of the chat interface.

Example Guardian: The new persistent menu is enlarged by default.

In addition to the new persistent menu and maybe even more important: the message input field can be now disabled.

With a menu instead of a message input field and web view, Facebook is basically creating a new integration on Messenger: instant apps.

The conversational interface is challenging. For many developers, brands and entrepreneurs the field of AI and NLP is quite new. As a result many chatbots were providing bad experiences. Instant apps are addressing this problem.

Instant apps makes sense for use cases in which chatbots with a conversational approach are not working, because of technical challenges in the field of AI and NLP or because of a simplicity that doesn’t require a conversation at all.

Business on WeChat, which started years earlier, is almost entirely based on a conversational interface with buttons and webview only, for the exact same reasons.

So now there are three different types of Messenger integrations: (conversational) chatbots, games and instant apps.

Facebook is rather a user (data) driven company than interested in rushing to create new experiences based on gut feelings. So it’s quite likely that we will see a lot of continuously rolled out changes and other experiments on Messenger very soon.

How Facebook will handle the three different types and which ones work best for which use case will be for sure one of the most important question for and after f8.

How Googles new approach on media is helping startups

Google and the media industry have never had an easy relationship in Europe. Despite the fact that Google is one of the biggest traffic drivers for publisher, they were more likely to sue each other, than to talk to each other.

Bearing this in mind, Google launched the Google News Lab in June 2015 . Two months later we founded Spectrm and our collaboration with the News Lab might be an indicator of how much Google and their relationship with publishers changed.

Here are three examples:

1. Hacks/Hackers

The core of the conflict between European publishers and Google is about how technology is changing journalism and its distribution.
Hacks/Hackers is addressing this very problem. A grass root movement where journalists are meeting developers to trade ideas. Started in 2009, Hacks/Hackers has spread all over the world with local communities.

One of their first bigger events took place in summer 2015 in Berlin with the support of the Google News Lab.

It was the event where we, without much expertise in the media business, got confident by talking to many journalists and entrepreneurs that we had the ability to solve a big problem for publisher.

Almost a year later Phillip invited us to join an event at Hacks/Hackers New York. It was our first time in New York and the event where we got connected to one of our major seed-investors.
Maybe the most important step in a startup’s life. 🎉

2. Digital News Initiative

The same day we arrived in New York, the Digital News Initiative pronounced us as their first funded project. The Digital News Initiative is a partnership between European publisher and Google and — yes — it is about money. Honestly, money for projects which would otherwise probably never get (enough) money to be successful.

Despite the current hype surrounding AI-startups it is actually an invidious affair.
It’s costly, it’s time consuming, full of experiments that often lead nowhere and work with way too little data. Being part of the Digital News Initiative by Google allowed Spectrm nonetheless to dig very deep into the field of artificial intelligence.The result is a unique technology in the field of natural language processing, chatbots and content recommendation.
We are pleased to launch this technology in the next few weeks.

3. Google News Summit

The Google News Summit took place in early December last year. Following the election and the subsequent discussion on fake news it was probably one of the most important media events of the year.
It took Facebook quite a while to acknowledge their huge impact on the news ecosystem and our society. Google instead learned the lesson and invited journalists, professors and startups to Mountain View to discuss all aspects of the current issues.

It’s not a coincidence that Google is acting fast and concerned with solving the problem rather than being part of the fake news discussion as Facebook is.

Sure, Googles efforts around journalism and media are not entirely altruistic. Google needs the open web and users will only search for content if the content is worth searching for. Without quality journalism a better search or distribution is worthless and vice versa.
That is the challenge for the whole ecosystem and partly Google itself.

Coming from the startup world, being collaborative and passionate about MVPs and experimentation is normal, but it’s very interesting to see the Google News Lab is using the same principals. Supporting early stage experimentation with the DNI and connecting the right people at Hacks/Hackers or the News Summit is a strategy that seems to be successful in building a new relationship with publishers.

The pleasant side effect of helping startups like us makes that even better. 🚀