Facebook reportedly working on 'Moneypenny' virtual assistant

Messenger app could be getting a virtual assistant that asks real people for help

zuckerberg f8 messenger

CEO Mark Zuckerberg explains plans for Facebook Messenger at the company's F8 conference in March

Credit: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Facebook is reportedly working on a virtual assistant for its Messenger app.

According to a report in The Information, the world's largest social network is working on the virtual assistant, which has been internally dubbed Moneypenny, presumably after the fictional secretary in the James Bond books and movies.

Facebook is developing the service that would enable users to ask real people for help researching and ordering products and services, the report noted, citing three unnamed sources.

Messenger is Facebook's mobile instant messaging app, which is designed to work with voice and text. The app reportedly has more than 700 million monthly users.

Facebook declined to comment on the report.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said it makes sense for Facebook to venture into the realm of virtual assistants after the success of Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana.

If the report is accurate, the question is how Facebook would weave together a "virtual" assistant with the ability to ask "real people" for help.

Moorhead suggested that a live person could be contacted if the virtual assistant wasn't coming up with the information that the user needed.

It also could be that if, for instance, a user asks for information about a certain bicycle, the virtual assistant could check for comments about it from the user's Facebook friends or the entire Facebook user community.

"It makes sense that they would try this, for sure," said Moorhead. "The best assistants have mountains of information on us that can be used to improve context. And Facebook has more personal data than anyone other than Google."

Last month, Facebook announced that having an account with the social network is no longer a prerequisite for using its Messenger app.

In several countries, including the U.S. and Canada, non-Facebook users can sign up to use Messenger with only their mobile phone, name and photo.

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