Facebook has come under some intense scrutiny this past week with their drive to move their messaging component out of the main Facebook app. While I’m a firm believer that users should know what they’re getting into when they install apps, for many geeks such as myself it’s been clear all along that this recent move has been blown out of proportion.
If you’re note familiar with the controversy – the issue is that the Facebook Messenger app requires a lot of permission to install, and many people are worried with wording such as the following
- “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 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.”
Of course it’s very easy for the uneducated to blame Facebook on these terms and condition but what many don’t realize is that the referenced security warnings are actually standard Android permission verbiage.
Android operates differently than iOS when an app is installed. With Google’s Android all of the disclaimers/permissions are granted when an app is first installed; however, with Apple many of the permission requests are displayed later when a user actually tries to use the feature which requires the authorization. Now while Google’s verbiage can be perceived as scary, the fact of the matter is that many applications require these permissions but they don’t actually use them in a scary way. For example, let’s say you’re using any messenger that allows you to take a selfie and send it to your chat partner. Most messenger apps have a built in feature to simply access the camera, take the photo and attach it your conversation. If users did not grant the app permission to use the camera, how would it take the photo without exiting the app and taking the photo separately? That seems like an inconvenience. Now you may be concerned about apps reading your contact and their phone numbers, right? Well one of the greatest features of different messengers is the ability to easily add contacts to these apps by matching up their phone numbers to their messenger profile. If the app did not have permission to access your contacts it would be impossible to locate your friends without manual input. So perhaps by now you understand those two points but are saying “Stephen, isn’t it creepy that Facebook can listen and record my audio?” Have you noticed that little grey microphone button at the bottom of Facebook Messenger? Yes, I’m referring to the one that allows you to send an audio message to your chat partner. How exactly is the app going to record your voice-messenger if it doesn’t have permission to use your microphone? Simple – it can’t.
Now while I’m not making any guarantees that Facebook couldn’t (in theory) use the permissions for their own gain, the reality is that this standard permission wording is found on many applications – may of which you may even have installed right now. Every day people sign up for services and agree to terms that they don’t read and the same goes for installing apps on your device and not reading the permissions. If you don’t believe me I’ve compiled some not-so-pretty (my apologies) screenshots of a variety of popular apps and the permissions they require. If you look through the photos you’ll see a lot of the same permissions that Facebook Messenger requires.
Once again I do always think that people should be aware what they’re agreeing to when they use services but I also do think that that in this instance with Facebook things have been greatly blown out of proportion because of some media sites running the story with the “big brother” overtone. While its ultimately up to you whether or not you install the app – I’m won’t be uninstalling my Facebook Messenger anytime soon.
Tags: android, Facebook, google, messenger, privacy, tech, Technology