Apprehension about the Facebook M digital assistant

In late July, a few Facebook users from San Francisco, California had the chance to experience the social media’s digital assistant called M. It is the company’s bold answer to the increasing demand for virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana. Facebook users, intrigued by the potential of the popular built-in digital assistant, have been publishing many rumors online that they hope will come to fruition sooner rather than later.

“It can perform tasks that none of the others can,” said David Marcus, vice president of Facebook’s messaging products department.

M: up close and personal

Unlike the built-in virtual assistants on most smartphones today, real people power M. Most mobile OS manufacturers have engineered their super-powered digital personal assistants entirely on technology. Although it can be used by considerably more people simultaneously, the range of tasks it can perform remains limited. Other companies that offer the same service like TaskRabbit employ people to respond to any text-based requests. However, the influx of requests appears to be difficult to control and assist with all at the same time.

Facebook M is a combination of both tech and human intuition – it is basically a hybrid. It’s a virtual artificial intelligence that runs commands via its tech-based system and a group of Facebook employees (M trainers) ensure that all requests are answered.

But, one question remains regarding most digital assistants: How reliable and safe is Facebook M?

Why we should be careful?

There are various concerns raised by experts online regarding Facebook M due to its security and reliability. Firstly, people are worried because Facebook practically has access to everyone’s personal information. Thus, if it’s being administered by a group people, many are worried that there could be sensitive data leaked online. In an age where cases of data breached are almost inevitable, hacking M is something that could potentially happened and worries about such leaks will always be a concern.

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Secondly, why do we need another personal assistant? You might have asked the same question yourself. For Apple users, they have grown accustomed to Siri, that made major improvements on the new iOS 9. Based on O2’s featured post, the new handsets are now built with a more accurate, faster, and smarter Siri functions that can recognize the owner’s voice when they call out (“Hey Siri!”). Similarly, Android handsets have Ok Google! while Microsoft phones have Cortana. Facebook M isn’t too dissimilar from these built-in virtual assistants as it can also attend personal requests/questions such as “Is there a dog-friendly beach nearby?” or “Can you help me order flowers for my mom’s birthday?” The only difference now is that M’s smart abilities are still limited. It only answers via the Messenger feature and has not expanded its abilities to be available from the Home page like Siri has.

Lastly, Instagram has recently added the same feature where suggested marketing posts were included in your news feed to make purchasing of items of interest easier. The featured items/websites were in fact ones that the user had visited recently, which caused some concern among Internet users. So, if Facebook M has personal information about its users as well as data of the items/websites they visited after going on Facebook, then how can we be certain that M’s suggestions are not paid ads? After all, most of social media now revolves around sales and marketing. So, Facebook M will need to earn their users’ trust more than anything to move forward.

There will be a need for a more “humanized” approach with the accuracy and efficiency of how Facebook M is executed. Siri, Cortana, and Ok Google! will need a complete revamp and less of a rehash. Apple and Microsoft will have to find a way soon to make their virtual assistants hybrids like Facebook M if they want to continue to compete in the market.

Are you excited or disappointed about Facebook’s bold move to release their very own digital assistant? What do you expect to see from M? Citizens of Culture will continue to 
follow updates regarding any further Facebook M developments. Stay tuned to this page for all the breaking news!

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