The Internet has been simmering lately over privacy concerns surrounding Facebook’s Messenger app, which will soon become the only way mobile users can send and receive messages on the social network.
But amid the forced adoption of Messenger, some bloggers have cried foul over seemingly draconian permissions required for users of the Android version of the app. Most of the criticisms echo a December Huffington Post article that highlighted several Orwellian-sounding policies, like the ability of the app to “call phone numbers without your intervention,” and “use the camera at any time without your permission.”
“Facebook has pushed this too far. It’s time we stood up and said ‘no!’” The Huffington Post article said.
But according to Facebook, the concerns about its Messenger app are overblown, and based on misinformation.
Much of the problem, Facebook says, is due to Android’s rigid policy on permissions. Facebook says it 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 and other apps use them,” Facebook wrote in a Help Center article designed to address what it calls misinformation on the topic.
Facebook also says the quotes in the Huffington Post article are outdated. Google recently changed the language it uses in its Android app permissions. The updated policy for the Facebook Messenger app on Android can be found at the bottom of this page, under the “view details” link in the Permissions heading.
Facebook says it has more control over the permissions language it uses in Apple’s iOS operating system, which handles the process differently.
Android users must agree to all permissions at once, before using the app, for every feature an app might use. On iPhones, users agree to the permissions when they come up during the normal use of the app. For instance, if an iPhone user never makes a voice call with Facebook Messenger, the app might never ask for permission to use the phone’s microphone.
While Android app users must agree to all permissions before using the app, iPhone users can decline to give permission to the app for some features, like access to the address book and microphone, but still use the app to send messages. Due to this, the iPhone version of the app is superior for particularly privacy-conscious users.
Regardless of the permissions, both the Android and the iOS Messenger apps are subject to the data use policies and terms that govern all Facebook users and every app within the Facebook family.
The bottom line is that, while some users might think it’s a drag to download a separate app for a feature that was once included in a single app, they’re not actually giving up a significant amount of additional privacy in the process.