Facebook Messenger App: Good or Bad?

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Oh, God. Here we go again. Facebook is violating our privacy.

Before we get all juiced up about Facebook and their latest Messenger app, let’s  discuss some of the facts as well as pro’s and con’s of the application in which Facebook has tried to make our busy lives more efficient.

The Facebook Messenger app is a standalone version of that social network’s instant chat feature. It allows users to access this app separately without having to open up the full Facebook app on your mobile device. When Sam Fiorella of the Huffington Post heard of the emergence of this latest app, he wrote an article about some of the most aggressive permissions that we, the user, have accepted when we agree to download the free app.

Facebook, as well as other companies who use mobile apps, requires the acceptance of an alarming amount of personal data. Here is a sampling of what Mr. Fiorella wrote:

“If you’re one of those 1,000,000,000 people who have downloaded the Facebook Messenger app, take a moment to read the following. Some of the permissions you have accepted:

  • Allows the app to change the state of network connectivity
  • Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to send SMS messages. This may result in unexpected charges. Malicious apps may cost you money by sending messages without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to read your phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save  your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.
  • Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.
  • Allows the app to read personal profile information stored in your device, such as your name and contact information. This means the app can identify you and may send your profile information to others.
  • Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device ID’s, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.
  • Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed.”

Okay. Let’s all take a deep breath, and try not to jump off a ledge.

What Mr. Fiorella needs to understand is that many of these permission requests are neither uncommon nor unreasonable. Additionally, these permissions aren’t any different than what the main Facebook app requires.

Facebook’s Response

In Facebook’s defense, there are several pluses to using Messenger. It allows people to receive and reply to messages quicker and easier. Since the message appears directly on your phone screen, the response rate is 20% quicker using the app as opposed to opening up the Facebook app and responding in that method. There is also the ability to speak within groups through the app. Users can also make calls and send images, videos, and even call phone numbers if they are overseas.

Now for the technical part (stay with me on this): Messenger needs access to your camera so that you can send pictures, and few people would want to confirm microphone access every time they use the app to place a call. This would appear to make our lives more efficient, yes? Facebook has also stated that these permissions are very common; probably more than most people realize. Even the most commonly used apps like WeatherBug, RunKeeper, and even Kim Kardashian’s game request permission to view your Wi-Fi network and other devices connected to it. Some of these vanilla apps also need to read your contacts and call log.

Facebook states that, “The concerns about its Messenger app are overblown and based on misinformation.”

Shocker.

In short, Facebook states that “due to Android’s rigid policy on permission, Facebook doesn’t get to write its own, and instead must use generic language provided to them by Android. The language in the permissions doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app uses them.” (quote from a Help Center article Facebook posted).

Additionally, on iPhones, users agree to the permissions when they come up during the normal use of the app. If an iPhone user never makes a voice call with Messenger, then the app will never ask permission to use the phone’s microphone. On the other end of the tech spectrum, for the Android app, users must agree to all permissions before using Messenger.

There are a few things that need to be addressed with ANY type of app. First of all, free apps are not really free–nothing is ever free. I think we learned that when we started grade school. Someone has to pay for the development and deployment of the applications, don’t they? That someone comes in the form of advertisers. Those advertisers want to be able to target and personalize their ads to specific groups of viewers, and that targeting requires knowledge of information about users like their geographic location, age, etc. I suppose we can call this the “lesser of two evils.” You may think you’re getting an app for free but the trade-off is giving your personal information so that advertisers can use it to get to you and also keep your app running in ship-shape condition.

Terms of Service – Do You Read Them?

I don’t. If I were to read Facebook’s terms of service, I would be sitting on my rump for 250 hours, or about 30 consecutive days–and that’s without a potty break.

Facebook’s Messenger app terms of service aren’t much different from other messenger-style apps. These apps need permission to use your camera and microphone for full functionality. The difference could be that because this is Facebook, it’s just receiving more criticism due to it’s past privacy issues. If people are really upset about this particular app gaining access to their camera and microphone–among other things–then perhaps they should just stop using Facebook completely; get your friends to stop using it too.

In Summary

Facebook is like crack. It’s addictive. It’s a way of life for people to communicate now. It’s not going away and most of you won’t either because most, if not all of your friends and family are on it, and you need to communicate with your friends and family so you can show them pictures of your newborn baby, newly adopted dog, pictures of cats (lots of cats), and share your political views through meme’s and articles.

If you truly have worries about your privacy, take a month to read Facebook’s terms of service. By the time you finish reading it I would imagine that Facebook would have updated its terms of service, requiring you to read it again.

If only terms of service were put in graphic form or a made for T.V. movie…

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