Facebook unveils new Amber Alert service

Brian Womack
Bloomberg News

Facebook Inc. wants the public to know when a child is missing or abducted.

Under a new program, the social-networking service will send out Amber Alerts, which police and other authorities send out in an area where they may be searching for a minor. Alerts will now be active by default, rather than requiring users to sign up for notifications, according to Emily Vacher, Facebook’s trust and safety manager.

“People are interested in this already,” Vacher said in an interview. “We're just really amplifying what people are doing in hopes the right information gets to the right person at the right time so that a child can be reunited safely with their family.”

Facebook, which has more than 1 billion users, is among the growing list of online companies that are using their extensive reach to provide information and alerts on local events. Nextdoor.com Inc., a social-networking site for neighborhoods, lets local agencies communicate with users about emergencies or crime prevention in nearby communities.

Under the new system, a bulletin be will be issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and then pushed through the Facebook system after local or state police determine the case qualifies for an Amber Alert. The alerts will include photographs and other details about the missing child — and will be shown on mobile devices and desktop computers.

The alerts will appear in the News Feed, the main hub for information for Facebook users. Law enforcement will decide on the range of the target area for the bulletins, Facebook said.