The Amber Alert may be one of the most heartbreaking concepts out there. Reserved for when a child goes missing—the mechanism itself is actually a backronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response—such things only go out at one of the worst times in a family's life. But it can also produce one of the best in the right situation: the location of said child and reuniting said child with the family. Facebook, meanwhile, is looking to help out on that front by bringing its toolset into things and bringing highly-targeted Amber Alert messages to its users' News Feed.
Facebook (News - Alert), working here with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will offer up Amber Alert broadcasts tailored to users in a specific area, including things like information about the possible abductor like vehicle type or license plate number, descriptions of both the abductor and the child, and where available, photographs.
Facebook's Emily Vacher, who serves as trust and safety manager, offered up some comment on the new option, saying “We know the chances of finding a missing child increase when more people are on the lookout, especially in the critical first hours. Our goal is to help get these alerts out quickly to the people who are in the best position to help.”
Amber Alerts as part of a larger system isn't specifically new. A large portion of phones, for example, are geared toward receiving location-specific Amber Alerts out of the box. But this is quite the gain for Facebook; indeed, reports suggest that Facebook's introduction of the Amber Alert system is actually part of a larger initiative in which Facebook brings more and more useful applications to the News Feed system, and it's hard to dispute the overall value of something like this. Back in November, Facebook was also seen using its impressive reach to bring extra force to the Ebola fight, calling on users to offer up donations to help fight the oncoming virus.
But something like this, notably, serves a two-fold purpose. One, it has a clearly altruistic bent. Facebook now has a great tool to point to to show how Facebook helps its community, and works to keep children safe. Two, it has a very clear altruistic bent, and the sheer clarity of it allows Facebook to combat a lot of the negatives in its perception. With something like this, Facebook can look at its detractors and say, yes, we collect a lot of information about our users, and a lot of it said users probably don't want collected. But we use that information to help find lost children. When a point like that comes out, it's hard to dispute; no one wants to be accused of not wanting to help find lost children. So Facebook manages to not only improve its perception in the community, but also deflect some of the worst criticisms that have been leveled against it, making its connection with the Amber Alert system a smart idea, and one that's likely to actually be some help. In the end, Facebook is a major broadcasting system, and a lot of people will likely see those alert messages.
Helping protect children is important, and it's good to see Facebook working in that direction. Though it's easy to still be concerned about the amount and type of information Facebook gathers, it's clear that the company itself is still deriving some breed of advantage from all this.