Facebook Messenger App: True Concern or Smear Campaign?

The recently devised, and some would say, recently mandatory Facebook Messenger App has a lot of people concerned. The question remains: Is that concern justified, or is it just “overblown hype” that amounts to a smear campaign?

Facebook Messenger is a standalone app that is a version of Facebook’s chat feature that negates having to launch the full Facebook app. The pros of that are you save bandwidth, memory, and battery life. However, critics of the app say that the Facebook Terms of Service users are required to accept before downloading the Messenger app means giving Facebook access to an alarming amount of data and control over your mobile devices — including tablets and smartphones.

An article by Sam Fiorella at The Huffington Post trumpeted most of the full-throated warnings. According to Fiorella, by accepting the Terms of Service on the Facebook Messenger App — what you do by downloading it — gives Facebook the following rights. Fiorella took this information word for word from the app’s Terms of Service:

“Allows the app to change the state of network connectivity.

Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention.

Allows the app to send SMS messages.

Allows the app to record audio with your microphone.

Allows the app to take pictures and video with your camera.

Allows the app to read your phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls.

Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone.

Allows the app to read personal profile information stored on your device, such as your name and contact information.

Allows the app to access the phone features of the device.

Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed.”

Put like that, in black and white, it does seem like the Facebook Messenger app is requiring a great deal of control over your device in order to use the app. However, if you don’t download the Facebook Messenger app, Facebook says that Messenger will not be available from its regular Facebook app soon. However, if you don’t use the app, and access the regular Facebook site via your phone or tablet’s internet browser, Messenger will still be available to you without using the app.

But is all of this really cause for true concern?

Facebook shot back in an article of their own to explain the need for the Terms of Service, and basically said they’ve written them in such a way as to please the general requirements of Android users — the platform that requires the most stringent and detailed listings when it comes to Terms of Service.

“Take pictures and videos: This permission allows you to take photos and videos within the Messenger app to easily send to your friends and contacts.

Record audio: This permission allows you send voice messages, make free voice calls, and send videos within Messenger.

Directly call phone numbers: This permission allows you to call a Messenger contact by tapping on the person’s phone number, found in a menu within your message thread with the person.

Receive text messages (SMS): If you add a phone number to your Messenger account this allows you to confirm your phone number by finding the confirmation code that we send via text message.

Read your contacts: This permission allows you to add your phone contacts as Messenger contacts if you choose to do so. You can always stop syncing your phone contacts by going to your Messenger settings.”

According to The Washington Post, the permissions that Facebook is asking for before downloading its Messenger app are actually fairly typical. It also agrees that some of the permissions desired for many apps are “creepy” and are potentially “insidious.” However, something as simple and innocuous as the Weatherbug App asks for the right to look at your Wi-Fi connection and other devices attached to it as part of its TOS. Other message apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and MessageMe all have Terms of Service that are comparable to Facebook Messenger.

In the end, you’ve probably already given important and personal permissions to an app that you already have. Facebook’s popularity brings those Terms of Service and permissions to the forefront of the discussion, so that everyone can re-examine what they are — and aren’t — willing to give away. Each individual will have to decide for themselves whether or not to give up permissions in order to use the Facebook Messenger app.

[Image via AndroidSPIN]