Over the years the idea that Facebook is spying on us resurfaces. Huffington Post wrote an article way back in January 2013 expressing concerns over the need to download Facebook Messenger if you were downloading the Facebook app. Concerns were raised that the app would give Facebook “direct control over your mobile device”.
The majority of the concerns seemed to come from the wording of their permissions, and it makes sense. When you download the app you are asked to confirm if you are happy to give Facebook access to your device's camera, microphone, contacts, location, calendar, WiFi information and more. We confess, it does sound a little Big Brother like.
However, these permissions are no different to the permissions countless other apps, for example WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram use. In that sense, Messenger is not a beautiful and unique snowflake. Equally, many of these permission requests are worded in a uniform manner to cover all bases – it doesn’t mean that Facebook wants to call all your contacts directly.
Why then do they need to have permission to access certain things? Let’s take a look at the classic examples.
Facebook Messenger asks for permission to access your camera because, if you want to send an image via Messenger, it will need to be able to do so. It is not, as some people seem worried, so it can spy on you while you are asleep.
Again, nothing sinister here. If you want to voice call a friend, or send a video you have recorded with sound, then Messenger will need to be able to access your microphone; otherwise, no one is going to hear anything you are trying to say.
One of the biggest concerns, thanks to some of the wording in the permissions, is that Facebook is going to start calling all your contacts in some kind of cold calling exercise. Firstly, Facebook really doesn’t need to do that. Secondly, if they sold the contact details to someone else without your knowledge they would be in all kinds of trouble. Santa might even put them on the naughty list.
What this means in reality is that Messenger needs access to your contacts to allow it to follow through with your requests to make calls. How can you call someone via Messenger if Messenger isn’t allowed to know any of their details?
Of course, it all depends on your definition of what “spying” really means. Many companies are constantly using and storing our data when we use the internet because they want to gather information about our preferences and the brands we interact with.
This information is then used to determine what adverts you are more likely to engage with based on the brands and products you are most likely to spend money on. Facebook has announced that Messenger will, in the not too distant future, be using adverts, and this is perhaps another cause for concern.
However, it appears you will only be shown adverts from brands that you have interacted with in the past, to ensure you are not being spammed. The last thing Facebook wants is for people to leave Messenger in droves.