Today Facebook has unveiled its response to the crazy growth of Zoom over the past few weeks of the COVID-19 related lockdowns happening pretty much worldwide.

Facebook Messenger already had video chat functionality, but it was limited both in the total number of people allowed to participate, and also in its requirement that all of them have a Facebook account.

With the new Messenger Rooms, that changes. First up, you can host video chats of up to 50 people, and those who don’t have a Facebook account can still join – they’ll receive a link to the Room you have created. With one click they can then join the conversation – just like with Zoom. Importantly, Messenger Rooms has no time limit whatsoever.

If you join a Room through the Messenger app, then you can play with AR effects and new features like immersive backgrounds and mood lighting. The creator of a Room chooses who can see and join it, and can remove anyone from the call at any time, as well as lock the Room if they don’t want anyone else to enter. And you can of course leave a Room whenever you want. Rooms you create through a Facebook Group are open by default to members of that Group.

Facebook launches Messenger Rooms for video chats with up to 50 people

The Rooms feature is not end-to-end encrypted, because “there are significant challenges” to providing such encryption for video calling with large groups of people. However, Facebook says it’s actively working towards this for the future. In the meantime, Room content is encrypted between participants and the Facebook servers, that are “placed in only a handful of countries that have strong rule of law”. The company also promises that it doesn’t watch or listen to your audio or video calls.

Messenger Rooms is rolling out “in some countries” this week, and will expand globally “in the coming weeks”.

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