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Facebook Messenger App Permissions: Should I Worry?

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 by | Filed Under: Android, iOS, Security Help, Smartphones, Social Networking
 
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Diane from Ohio asks:

I saw this post on Facebook. I’m not very tech-savvy, but it has me concerned.

“First, this is VERY important to read and understand. I’m doing my best to look out for all the Facebook Users who aren’t as tech savvy as their kids or friends. I’m trying to help explain what’s happening because if I don’t…nobody else will!

If you’re anything like your neighbor…you probably use Facebook on your phone WAY more than you use it on a computer. You’ve been sending messages from the Facebook app and it probably always asks you if you want to install the Facebook Messenger App.

It’s always been OPTIONAL but coming soon to your Facebook experience….it won’t be an option…it will be mandatory if you care to send messages from your phone.

No big deal one might think…but the part that the average Facebook User doesn’t realize is the permissions you must give to Facebook in order to use the Facebook Messenger App. Here is a short list of the most disturbing permissions it requires and a quick explanation of what it means to you and your privacy.

  • Change the state of network connectivity – This means that Facebook can change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service. You’re basically giving Facebook the ability to turn features on your phone on and off for it’s own reasons without telling you.
  • Call phone numbers and send SMS messages – This means that if Facebook wants to…it can send text messages to your contacts on your behalf. Do you see the trouble in this? Who is Facebook to be able to access and send messages on your phone? You’re basically giving a stranger your phone and telling them to do what they want when they want!
  • Record audio, and take pictures and videos, at any time – Read that line again….RECORD audio…TAKE pictures….AT ANY TIME!! That means that the folks at Facebook can see through your lens on your phone whenever they want..they can listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to!!

 I cut the length of the original question because it would take up this whole article, but I would like to address the major points. First of all, if you have the Facebook mobile app, you’ve already authorized the same permissions for the Facebook App, so these permissions are nothing new.  Also saying that an app is mandatory if your want to message is misleading, because there are multiple apps that allow you to message available out there, but most of them will need those same kinds of permissions.

Let’s look at a few of the claims in this article:

1. Changing the state of network connectivity: If your phone is not connected to Wifi and you decide to send a message, your phone needs to connect to WiFi. Waking your phone up from sleep to notify you of a message is changing the state of the network connectivity. This doesn’t mean that you’ve given Facebook permission to turn your phone on or off on a whim.

2. Calling Phone Numbers or sending SMS messages: Calling phone numbers is an options in Messenger, you can choose to call people.  In order for that to work, the app needs permission to use the phone.  This does not give FB free rein to make phone calls.

3. Record audio, video and pictures at any time:  The “at any time” part is not true. The permissions allow you to activate your camera or the microphone when you choose to take a photo or video or record audio within messenger.  It does not authorize anyone to turn on your camera when they feel like it.

Here’s the bottom line – Facebook does trade in information such as your contacts and the posts you visit, like and comment on to target advertising to you. That’s the price you pay to use Facebook, you look at their ads. Using conveniences like Facebook Connect to log in to apps and onto websites does require you to share information about the apps you are using.

All of those free apps and services like Gmail, Instagram, Google Search and Angry Birds trade in information instead of charging you a fee.

I believe we do need to read app permissions and understand them. I wouldn’t give a game permission to know my location, but I would a map service and I have also granted that to apps like Facebook and Instagram because I tag photos with locations.

The reasons behind splitting Facebook and Messenger into two distinct apps are many. Facebook wants to become the dominant player in the messenger field even for those who don’t enjoy social media. Both Facebook and messenger should be faster now that the FB app isn’t trying to accomplish two functions at once. With Messenger, you can receive and respond to FB messages without opening the Facebook app or leaving another app.

There’s much more about those permissions over at Snopes.com.

~ Cynthia

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11 Responses to “Facebook Messenger App Permissions: Should I Worry?”

  1. Ernie White says:

    I have a face book account but I won’t be using it as a messenger.
    I hardly ever use any messenger for as that go!!

  2. Taranach says:

    All this is true enough from the actual permissions standpoint… however, how many times have people had their Facebook account hacked or taken over? Now transfer that to all the data on your phone…. still not a problem? Right…

    • cynthia says:

      I agree that phone security can be an issue. But if you already have Facebook mobile installed on your phone, you aren’t granting any extra permissions by using messenger.

  3. Inzelet says:

    WOW! This is serious stuff. I don’t have the app on my phone, figured the laptop and tablet was enough. People need to read more to see what rights they are giving these apps. TOO SERIOUS PEOPLE….OPEN YOUR EYES TO THE RIGHTS YOUR GIVING AWAY!

  4. Vince says:

    So are you paid by FB to smooth things over for them?

    “This doesn’t mean that you’ve given Facebook permission to turn your phone on or off on a whim.” = BS
    Yes you have because the way it is worded legally you just did!
    “This does not give FB free rein to make phone calls.” = Another lie on your part – Read how it is worded!

    There is nothing in the agreement in granting permissions saying “only when you the user uses this function”. If their ultimate goal isn’t to turn your phone on at will to track you and sell the data then why not add a few simple words that would make it legally binding that they only have permission when you personally use said function opposed to anytime?

    FB is not the only company pulling this but they are the biggest scumbags involved and anyone trusting them is a moron.
    Anyone claiming they are safe is either being paid to lie,stupid or just plain untrustworthy!

    • cynthia says:

      I am certainly not on Facebook’s payroll. And I am not lying to protect them. These permissions allow them to make phone calls at your request. There’s a function within Messenger that makes phone calls. If it didn’t have permissions to access your phone, how could it make calls?

      Social media permissions do take some of your privacy, but the permissions for Facebook messenger are not different from the permissions you see with other messaging apps. If you aren’t comfortable with them, don’t use them. You are certainly right about companies trading in your information. I see you have a Yahoo account – they scan your mail for keywords in order to target ads to you, the same way Facebook scans your feed to target you with ads and promote pages. That’s the price you pay for your “free service.”

      Google requires Android permissions to be worded very broadly. Companies can’t just say they have permission to make a phone call if you hit the dial button. If you had the iPhone version of the app, it would only ask for permission to use the phone if you made a call, but Android permissions are not set up like that.

      I stand by my assertion that if the permissions required to use Facebook Mobile were not troubling to users, the permissions required to use Facebook messenger shouldn’t cause worry either.

  5. Judy says:

    I don’t use a Smart phone, but I do have a tablet and I can’t access the PM without this APP. I haven’t done it because every time I think I will finally do it, it asks to get into my personal info. I am not a huge fan of FB but I do have it and use it. I don’t make phone calls, etc. on the tablet. I just want to be able to get the PM on the tablet. SO. is it safe to d/l that app on the tablet?

    • cynthia says:

      The permissions for the messenger app are exactly the same permissions required for Facebook Mobile. If you are comfortable with using Facebook Mobile, there’s no reason you should worry about using messenger. However, the nature of social media is that it wants your information in order to target advertising to you. Messenger is no less safe than having Facebook on your tablet.

  6. Jo Oliver says:

    You did very little to help those of us who don’t have one of those phones that washes windows and does about everything else except change diapers. I only use FB on my MAC and will probably never have a phone app…..that’s find with me as I am elderly and get confused easily. Please help us ole folks still thinking the computer is hard…….but if ya want to see the grands far away, the computer stuff has to be learned. Thanks sweetie. hugs…….nanajo

  7. Karen says:

    Then why is it constantly telling me to turn on GPS??? That it NEEDS to access my contacts. I refuse. I don’t want them tracking every step I take, and it is no business of theirs who my contacts are. If I need messenger on my phone… Well I will use the text or the talk button. There are more and more apps demanding connecting the GPS… NOPE!! They do not need to know where I am or am not.

  8. [...] We’ve published a few articles in the past couple of weeks that  address concerns over the permissions required in Facebook Messenger. We said that the permissions required for Messenger are no different that the permissions required [...]

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