Facebook took a significant step into the increasingly popular online video-calling segment, unveiling a feature allowing users to make group calls with up to 50 people across its products, in an effort to boost its role during the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

In a statement, the company announced Messenger Rooms will let users create a “room” on Facebook or Messenger and start video calls even with people who don’t have an account with the social media giant.

The feature is being tested in certain countries, including Argentina, Italy and Poland, and will expand globally in the coming weeks.

Facebook said it will ensure user privacy by pledging not to “watch or listen to your audio or video calls”.

It noted, however, it collected data from Messenger Rooms “to provide the service and improve the product experience”, but emphasised this wouldn’t be used for advertising purposes.

Another addition to its main offering will let users add another person to their live video regardless of their location. The company also unveiled plans to add an option for event creators to charge for accessing live video content.

Facebook also moved to offer end-to-end encrypted group voice and video calls with up to eight people on WhatsApp.

The steps could be seen as an effort to compete with rival video-calling offerings including Zoom and Houseparty, which recorded usage spikes at the start of the year when many global governments implemented lockdowns.