No, Facebook Messenger Will Not Eat Your Privacy… Any More Than Facebook Already Has, At Least

For a while, Facebook Messenger was just a superfluous app that would let users send and receive messages through the social network without having to navigate the main Facebook app. Now, though, Messenger is becoming mandatory if you want to send messages, but are users giving up some critical privacy rights for the sake of staying connected?

Depending on to whom you listen, mandatory Facebook Messenger is either annoying, outright evil, or just silly. Users have already logged their disagreement with Facebook’s decision to force messaging users to download Messenger in order to use Facebook’s communication services on mobile devices. The app is currently among the top 50 most downloaded apps on Apple’s iOS App Store, but it has an average rating of just one star. That’s right: With more than 14,000 reviews logged, the user community has signaled how much they hate this app.

Facebook Messenger iOS
Facebook Messenger's mandatory status on iOS has ruffled some feathers.

The hatred mostly comes from users feeling forced into downloading the app. Previously, messaging capabilities were built into the main Facebook app, but Facebook has been shunting users over to Messenger as of late. Many users have complained that Facebook is simply making them download yet another app when they don’t really need to:

“Why should it be forced down our throats? Is there a reason why it cannot be optional? A legitimate reason?”

-Facebook Messenger app reviewer

Others, though, are furious at what they see as an inexcusable breach of user privacy. They cite the terms of use that users must agree to. Those terms allow the app to “record audio,” “take pictures,” and access users’ contact lists. Spooky, huh?

Not quite.

A look at the user permissions for any number of other apps shows that they require the same permissions as Facebook Messenger. Put plainly: In order to send an audio message, the app will need to record audio; in order to send picture messages, it will need to access your camera roll or take pictures; and in order to call another user’s phone number, it will need to get that phone number out of your contact list.

Facebook Messenger Android
Facebook Messenger's permissions on Android have some people seeing sinister motivations

The paranoia surrounding Facebook Messengers permissions is especially odd in light of the fact that, well… it’s regarding a service provided by Facebook. Facebook is already the most popular photo sharing service in the world, so it already has access to your photos. It is already one of the most popular messaging services in the world, so it already stores your communications with friends. And, speaking of friends, Facebook already knows whose yours are, without you downloading Messenger. You’ve already told Facebook all of these things. Downloading an app that lets you send goofy stickers isn’t going to give Facebook any more power than we’ve already given it.

Facebook has pushed back against the Messenger pushback on its website, explaining why its Android app in particular needs to ask for so many permissions. The explanations aren’t as sinister as some users might think. As expected, Facebook Messenger needs to do these things so that it can — surprise! — send messages.

So Facebook may have squandered a bit of user good will in forcing everyone onto the Messenger app in order to stay in touch, but Messenger isn’t any sort of Trojan horse aimed at helping Facebook take over the world with your data. At least, not any more than Facebook already has taken over the world with your data.

[Lead image via Channel 4]