Over the last few weeks there has been a LOT of talk about the Facebook Messenger Permissions required to install on your Android device, some of the comments around the social media circles are ill informed at best; downright irresponsible at times. There’s a LOT of permissions to take onboard when you install the app and it can seem quite daunting, invasive and perhaps a little creepy when you look at the amount of access to your device that Facebook want.
Aside from being business suicide for Facebook, the fact remains; the general level of conversation and interaction on the social media platform frankly isn’t worth eavesdropping on is it? Really, are they going to get hold of any trade secrets? Foil terrorist plots against the US President? Or even hear anything interesting other than “social” happenings? Information which they already have if you’re on Facebook anyway!
The reason the app needs your permission to access the Microphone is so you can make/receive video and voice calls with your friends and to send voice messages. They’re not going to “randomly record” your conversations when you are at a cafe with your friends or when you’re having some private time with your partner. The function is only active when the app is open on your screen and your device is unlocked.
One of the most amusing aversions I’ve seen to the app so far is the permission that allows it to take pictures and video. Ummm… Anyone actually looked on Facebook lately? All people do is post pictures and video so why the fear of this one? What Facebook are trying to do is streamline the user experience so you don’t have to
- Leave the app
- Take a picture or video
- Reopen the app
- Share Video/Picture
- Navigate to your gallery and select it
- Upload it
It’s just point, click and share inside the app.
The other permissions that Facebook seeks and has caused angst among many users are
- Receive Text Messages – Is how Facebook confirms your phone number if you give it to them
- Read your contacts – Gives a quick way of adding your phone contacts as Messenger contacts (minimising the work for you as the users)
- Directly dial out – Allows you to call a contact by tapping their phone number, no permission means no dial out from within the app
None of which should be “scary” to anyone and you’ve got the opportunity to NOT give Facebook your number and NOT allow the app to have access to your contacts on installation.
Like it or not, when you use Facebook: You are a product that they’re selling to their advertising partners who pay them money. Consequently, Facebook are trying to streamline the user experience which maximises the time in app for users and minimises the time that you need to spend outside their app; where they’re not gathering information about you, your social connections and interactions and unable to display targeted advertising to you.
So what does all this really mean?
At the end of the day, what Facebook are asking to do isn’t outside any laws, makes smart business sense and (while perhaps borderline if you believe yourself to be a customer rather than a saleable product) isn’t immoral. They’re looking to get your permission to connect you to your friends. The harsh reality is that many users of the Facebook Android App blindly agreed to the permissions of the app without reading them originally and the Facebook Messenger app is actually asking (overall at least) for less access than the full Facebook app.
In fact, there’s a lot of apps out there that ask for more permissions than the Messenger app does. Do you use Hangouts? Do you use Whatsapp? Both of these do, check out the messaging permissions spreadsheet we’ve put together to see what permissions each of these apps actually ask for.
Still seem scary to you?
I the era we live in, convenience often overrides privacy; this is all just a big beat up by someone who saw what access Facebook is asking for and assumed the worst of them (not without previous history of provocation) for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a second saying that Facebook give anything close to a single care about your privacy. Nor am I saying that they won’t go down that path in the future and yes; someone with the know how could potentially exploit these permissions to gain unauthorised access to your data and your contacts details. If nothing else out of this fiasco around the Facebook permissions happens I would really like to see users; Read the permissions on apps they’re installing rather than blindly agreeing to them and if a permission seems odd, out of place or perhaps a little devious in their request then question it, research it and understand what it is that you’re agreeing to.
I’m not a big Facebook user personally, but I have installed the Messenger app on my phone and use it quite regularly to talk to friends and family overseas. It’s a useful app, powerful and fulfils a need to message your contacts via what is the undisputed heavyweight champion of social media.
Did you get caught up by the hype of permissions fear? Share your stories of dodgy app permissions with us