Facebook has temporarily removed some features from its Messenger and Instagram offerings, at least for European users. The move is to give the company time to make changes in order to comply with changes to EU privacy regulations, which are currently enforced by member states.
Users who activate their apps in the region are greeted with a pop-up warning “Some features not available – This is to comply with the new rules for messaging services in Europe. We are working to bring them back.” The “new rules” a it refers to actually date back to 2002: the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, or ePrivacy Directive for short. From 21 December (Monday), over-the-top messaging services will fall under this legislation, not just those offered directly by companies telecommunications and broadband providers.
Both apps still function as basic messengers, but many of the “nice to have” interactive things are pending, such as creating polls and giving nicknames to your contact list. Some will continue to work in one-to-one conversations, but not in group chats. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but Facebook has declined to provide a definitive list, saying there is no need, as many will be reactivated imminently once they undergo compliance testing. In a statement to the BBChe adds: “We are still determining how best to restore these capabilities. It takes time to rebuild products so that they work perfectly for people and are also compliant with new regulations.”
Given that the type of functionality that has been discontinued should have no direct correlation with the new rules, it appears that, for once, Facebook is erring on the side of caution. The e-privacy directive simply prohibits the collection of message content and associated metadata without the sender’s permission. In other words, for example, to scan your messages to personalize advertisements. Given that unless Facebook knows something we don’t know, a large emoticon sticker shouldn’t break the rules, this seems like a case in which Facebook uses a lot of caution against a notoriously contentious European Union.