Recent Facebook Messenger App privacy issues are overblown

If you sFB_Messenger_iOS_6_RGBpend much time on Facebook, I’m sure you’ve seen this article (or this one or this one) making rounds the past few days. Essentially, they are poorly researched, misleading alarmism. Yes, we know that Facebook might not have the best record when it comes to privacy, and there are always privacy concerns when you get a free service in exchange for the use of your personal information to make money, but these articles are completely off base.

First, they usually start off by saying it’s a mandatory app. It’s not. It’s only required if you want to be able to easily send and receive Facebook messages on your smartphone. You can still send and receive messages on mobile web or on the computer. And you can still browse, comment, and post to Facebook without this app. They have simply sliced out the messaging function into a separate app (which I think is dumb but that is a personal preference).

Some variations of the article mention the updated scary terms, but then doesn’t go on to mention them. It goes on to the meat of the article which isn’t the terms but it’s implied that it is. Maybe the authors are confused about the difference between Facebook’s terms and the boilerplate warnings that your phone OS gives.

Now the part that sounds scary. It says that the app needs access to a plethora of very personal data. Things like access to your camera, to your call history, etc. All of this wording is Google’s standard text that is shown when any Android app installs. I am not an Android user, but from what I understand Android permissions are all or nothing. By using an app you have to give it full access to all of the things that it wants. You are told what it could be accessing, but you aren’t given the option to say “I want this app to be able to use my camera but not my contact list”. Unlike iOS where you are able to do just that.

Why would Facebook Messenger need access to these things? Some are easy to explain, others I’m not sure of but I have my theories. Camera: easy, you need this so you can send photos. Call history: the news feed you see on Facebook is no where near everything that is happening with all of your friends. It’s heavily filtered, giving preference to those people you contact more often. Facebook probably uses your call history to further refine that. Access to network connectivity: I assume that this is so the app can detect whether you are on WiFi or cellular, so that it doesn’t autoplay videos when you are on cellular and chew through your data plan. Making phone calls and sending texts: This is so that when you are chatting with someone there is a button right there to call them.

I’m not installing the Facebook Messenger app myself, but not for concerns over security or privacy. I simply don’t use it enough to justify having a separate app for this. Really the only time I use Facebook Messages is when I’m privately sharing something that is already on Facebook. If you want me I’ll be on iMessage.