The Truth About the Facebook Messenger App and Your Privacy

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Chances are that if you use Facebook today (and those chances are high because Facebook just passed over 1.2 billion active users), you have heard all the hype about the Facebook Messenger App. Users are now being forced to download the separate Messenger App if they want to use messaging through the Facebook app itself for mobile. Not only is that a burden, but Facebook asks for more permissions than the average app in order for you to be able to download the app and, let’s be honest, the permissions are a little frightening when you start looking into them

So, should you be worried about your privacy if you download the Messenger App? Should you not? What do the permissions actually mean and why does Facebook need them? Is Facebook the only app with these “invasive” permissions? This post hopes to answer all that.

I want to start with reacting to a video that I’ve seen shared around social media. In it, two news anchors are discussing the recent Facebook Messenger App and how many users are worried that Facebook is crossing the line and invading everyone’s privacy. Then, they refer to a “Tech Expert” named Anthony Mongeluzo who talks about how Facebook can use the permissions that you agree to in order to “use your recording device and your camera device on your phone without even telling you“. Also, he states that if you text someone that you want something (such as a “Nike Fit Band” as he refers to it), that Facebook will start popping up ads for “Nike Fit Bands”.

NONE of this is true! Nowhere in the permissions does it say that it can use your camera or microphone at any time. Furthermore, if you text someone that you want something, ads will not start popping up on Facebook for that item. If anything, it will be using the cookies within your browser and the pages you’ve visited to give you “relevant” ads. This “Tech Expert” Anthony is a sad excuse for an expert. He refers to the WhatsApp Messenger App as “What’s Up App” and calls Nike FuelBands “Nike Fit Bands”. Just because you heard it from a “news source” online does not mean it’s true. The media loves to scare people because it causes buzz and causes their story to get out there and people to listen.

Secondly, let me get this out there.

If you have the regular Facebook App downloaded, you already have agreed to nearly all the permissions that the Facebook Messenger App requests!

Yes you heard that correctly. The regular Facebook app (not the Messenger app) uses nearly all the same permissions as the Messenger app does (and even more).

Don’t believe me? Check this out (click on picture for full size):

As of Facebook version 14.0.0.17.13 and Facebook Messenger version 9.0.0.15.17
facebook_mobile_app_permissions_list

facebook_messenger_app_permissions_list-2
In the above pictures, you’ll see screenshots of the Facebook app and the Messenger app’s permissions (with some overlap) laid out side by side. After reading through them, some of them stand out as being pretty scary if you’ve never looked into these before (some are listed below).

Messenger App Examples:

  • directly call phone numbers
  • receive, read, and edit your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • take pictures and videos
  • record audio
  • change network connectivity

Facebook App Examples:

  • directly call phone numbers
  • read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • take pictures and videos
  • record audio
  • change network connectivity
  • read/write call log
  • read calendar events plus confidential information

Notice that many of the permissions are the same, except the Facebook App has even more permissions (and more scary looking ones at that). After all, the Facebook App is a full blown social networking app whereas the Messenger App is just a messaging app so it makes sense that the Messenger App has less permissions.

If you read all the permissions, you’ll notice that the ONLY permissions that the Messenger App requests that the Facebook App doesn’t is in the SMS category. Instead of just having read your text messages (SMS or MMS) like the Facebook App, the Messenger App requests permissions to receive text messages (SMS or MMS), edit your text messages (SMS or MMS), and send SMS messages.

Why does Facebook need these permissions?

Well, Facebook came out with a new help page on their site within the past few weeks to help explain to users what the permissions are used for specifically for the Messenger App. However, there was already a help page out there for the regular Facebook App.

See these links:

Some examples Facebook provides as to why they need those permissions (can also be found in the links above):

  • Read your text messages (SMS or MMS) – If you add a phone number to your account, this allows us to confirm your phone number automatically by finding the confirmation code that we send via text message.
  • Take pictures and video – This permission allows you to take photos and videos within the Messenger app to easily send to your friends and other contacts.
  • Record audio – This permission allows you to send voice messages, make free voice calls, and send videos within Messenger.
  • Directly call phone numbers – This permission allows you to call a Messenger contact by tapping on the person’s phone number, found in a menu within your message thread with the person.
  • Read calendar events plus confidential information – This allows the app to show your calendar availability (based on your phone’s calendar) when you’re viewing an event on Facebook.

Another thing that is important to note — An application needs permissions in order to get its features to work. I have even developed some basic Android apps in the past for fun that required some of these permissions. For example, if there is a button within your application that allows the user to take a picture or video, the developer needs to require permissions to take pictures and videos along with the permission to record audio. Otherwise that button is useless because it won’t do anything. Simple as that.

Is Facebook the only app with these “invasive” permissions?

Absolutely not. This is something that you would think is common sense, but apparently it’s not. There are plenty of other apps out there that use many of these same permissions.

Here is a list of most of the “invasive” permissions listed above that the Facebook and Messenger App use along with other popular apps that use those same permissions:

I think you get the point. In my research, the app that surprised me the most was AVG AntiVirus Security. It requested nearly all the same permissions as the Facebook Messenger App except for a couple. Yet, I don’t see everyone up in arms about their privacy when they download AVG… quick! Somebody tell the media. Perhaps they can make a video to scare everyone about it.

Should you be worried about your privacy with the Facebook Messenger App or no?

The answer is NO! The point I’m trying to make with this post is that… you shouldn’t be any more worried about your privacy than you were before the Messenger App became mandatory in order to access your messages through the regular Facebook App.

Why? Because it uses almost every single permission that the regular Facebook App uses. Not to mention, based on the number of downloads listed for the other popular apps above, chances are that you use at least one of those apps and those apps use many of the same permissions as the Facebook Messenger App.

If you truly still believe that Facebook can “access your recording devices at any time”, well guess what, you agreed to those same permissions with the regular Facebook App, or WhatsApp, or Skype, or Snapchat, or many other apps.

The bottom line…

Is that Facebook is using the information they gather about each individual user so that they can sell that information to third-party companies. This is how Facebook monetizes the data they receive. Without it, they wouldn’t be in business. Not sure how your data is used? You can poke through the various categories on the Facebook Data Use Policy page or just go straight to “Information we receive and how it is used“.

The part we should be worried about is the fact that, regardless of any permission that any app could ever ask us, much of online Internet data (whether that be Facebook chats, websites visited, pictures sent, etc.) goes directly to the NSA because apparently we all need to be tracked. But that’s a whole other conversation…

Still not convinced and want alternatives?

Easy. You don’t have to download the Messenger App. You can access your messages via the desktop version of Facebook Or… you could just use another messaging app! There are plenty out there — WhatsApp, Kik, Skype, etc.

credit:crambler

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