Facebook Messenger: 5 Misconceptions - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Software // Social
01:04 PM
Connect Directly

Facebook Messenger: 5 Misconceptions

Misinformation around Facebook's Messenger permissions has users crying foul. Here's a closer look at the rumors, plus details about what you can -- and can't -- control.

Geek's Guide To NYC Travel: Interop Preview
Geek's Guide To NYC Travel: Interop Preview
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The Facebook Messenger switch has users stewing.

In April, the social network announced it would kill the chat feature in its main iOS and Android apps and instead require users to download Messenger to chat with friends. This would make both apps faster, according to Facebook, since users could bypass loading their news feed when accessing and sending messages.  

While Facebook and Messenger integrate seamlessly as two separate apps, people are still crying foul. Android users have logged nearly 800,000 one-star reviews of the app while the iOS version has averaged just a one-star rating. Misinformation and distrust in the social network have fueled users' recent gripes. 

To be fair, Facebook's many faux pas have earned the company that knee-jerk reaction from users. But in reality, Messenger's permissions aren't that different from other apps you may use, and they're not as outlandish as some may claim.

Here's a closer look at some of the most common misconceptions about Messenger's permissions, plus details about what you can -- and can't -- revoke.

[Get a grip on your account. Read 10 Most Misunderstood Facebook Privacy Facts.]

1. Facebook's permissions are unreasonable.
Many of the problems users have with Messenger's permissions stem from Android's app standards, Facebook said. Android does not allow Facebook to write specific permissions for apps -- which it can do for iOS -- so instead it must use Android's generic language to explain what it needs. Facebook said this language "doesn't necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use [the permissions]."

Another big difference: Android users must agree to all permissions at once before using the app. That's not the case for iOS users, who can grant access to or decline individual permissions on a case-by-case basis. For example, Messenger for iOS won't request access to your microphone unless you try to send a voice message or place a call, but Android users must agree to this -- and all other permissions -- before using the app.

2. Facebook can listen to your audio.
Messenger doesn't request access to your microphone to spy on you (though Facebook may use your microphone to recognize what you're listening to if you have audio recognition turned on). Instead, the app requests access to your device's microphone so you can record voice messages and use the video conferencing feature. Other apps, including Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine request this permission for similar reasons.

iOS users can turn off this permission: Visit your device's Settings > Privacy > Microphone and switch it off for Messenger.

3. Facebook wants a copy of your contacts list.
Another permission that has given users pause is Messenger's request to read your contacts. When iOS users download the app, the first thing it asks is to sync with the contacts in your phone.

Facebook requests this permission in case you have non-Facebook friends in your address book who use Messenger. You won't see these people, however, unless they, too, have enabled contact syncing. Both iOS and Android users can discontinue contact syncing by turning this option off in your Messenger settings.

iOS users can go a step further and delete imported contacts from Facebook. To do this, go to Messenger's settings page and tap Synced Contacts > Learn More. This page will show you the contacts that were imported to Messenger and let you delete them at the bottom. Even if you delete contacts, your phonebook will be imported again if you have continuous syncing turned on.

4. Facebook will snoop on your text messages.
According to a Facebook help page, Messenger asks for permission to read your text messages for verification purposes. If you add your phone number to your Messenger account, for example, this permission will let you confirm it by finding the confirmation code that it sends you via text message. 

5. Facebook tracks your location.
Facebook tags your location in messages by default in Android, but requests permission from iOS users to turn on location services. Your friends can see your location in two places: below your message and on a map, which friends can access by tapping your message.

To turn off this feature, tap the arrow button or the small circle next to your text box, which turns it from blue (on) to gray (off). You can also turn off your location setting for Messenger in the settings section of your device.

Consumerization means CIOs must grant personal devices access to corporate data and networks. Here's how to avoid loss and corruption. Get the new Mobile Security Action Plan issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest today (free registration required).

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
10/13/2014 | 9:52:27 PM
Re: Sorry, Kristin, you're dead wrong
Hey margo2000,

You can turn off Address Book access for Facebook. On the top level of Settings is an entry for the iOS integration of Facebook. It's there whether the Facebook app is installed or not. You turn off Address Book access there.

I don't dispute what you've seen happen, and that at some point they did get your contacts. Apps could do that without asking 2 1/2 years ago, as you've documented. And I haven't read where Facebook said they'd delete contact info they collected. But the way to tset now would be for someone using Facebook on iOS for the first time, if contacts are still sent with Address Book access turned off before singing into Facebook on iOS and installing the app.

User Rank: Ninja
8/16/2014 | 5:51:40 PM
Re: Sorry, Kristin, you're dead wrong
@Kristin I agree with you. Most of the times we even not agreeing with the terms have to click ok as we need to have that app due to other reasons. A dangerous agreement indeed :)
Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
8/13/2014 | 9:18:46 PM
Re: Sorry, Kristin, you're dead wrong
@Laurie or (worse) they just click "Ok" before understanding what they're agreeing to.
Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
8/13/2014 | 9:17:40 PM
Re: Sorry, Kristin, you're dead wrong
Hi Margo, thanks for your comment. The contact issue -- a serious one -- was from early 2012. The launch of iOS 6 a few months later fixed that vulnerability, and since then applications must get explicit permission before they access your personal information.  http://gizmodo.com/5918693/ios-6-wont-let-apps-steal-your-contact-data-anymore
User Rank: Author
8/12/2014 | 12:55:55 PM
Re: Sorry, Kristin, you're dead wrong
Permissions on FB apps are too hard for most people to understand. Therefore, many people have stopped installing them.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/11/2014 | 5:17:48 PM
Facebook double trouble
I'm just annoyed that Facebook decided I needed two apps rather than one to perform essentially the same tasks. The improvements Messenger supposedly delivers aren't anything I care about, and those pop-up bubble faces for contacts were extremely annoying until I found the setting to turn them off.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/11/2014 | 4:06:42 PM
Re: The problem remains - FB saying they will behave doesn't change anything
Android will soon be getting granular permissioning, in the Android L release.
User Rank: Apprentice
8/11/2014 | 3:27:53 PM
Sorry, Kristin, you're dead wrong
Kristin, if you install the Facebook app on an iPhone, it will read all of your iPhone Contacts and send them to Facebook's servers. PERIOD. There is no setting to disable this; it's done when you install the app, whether you like it or not. This has been documented heavily on the Internet. I called Apple tech support, and after denying it, they admitted that it's true. 



Try it yourself: Open Settings on your iPhone. Now pick "Privacy," and "Contacts." You'll see a list of apps and you can choose whether or not they can access your Contacts. See the problem? Facebook isn't listed. That's becasue they take your Contacts without asking. I figured this out for myself when Friend suggestions showed up for people who I'd had only fleeting business relationships with, who don't know any of my friends. If a "Friend" suggestion shows up for someone in your Contacts list, and zero mutual friends are listed, how do you think Facebook got the name? From you, of course.
User Rank: Apprentice
8/11/2014 | 2:59:17 PM
The problem remains - FB saying they will behave doesn't change anything
The problem is not that people misunderstand what Facebook says it will be using those permissions for. Just because FB has an explanation for why they want those permissions doesn't mean the concern over the app is misplaced.

The problem is that I don't want to give the FB messenger app all of those permissions in the first place. Nor do I want to be forced into using another messaging app to do what worked wonderfully from within the FB app last week - send messages to other facebook users.

Facebook of course says it will not be using the esentially unlimited permission to control my phone for purposes I don't like. But the problem is that once the app has those permissions, I am both at the mercy of flaws in that app that might be exploited by others, and I have NO control over what FB actually does with those permissions.

At least on Android, this a fundamental flaw in the operating system. I have no control over permissions. On Blackbery OS, permissions are fine grained.  If I am never going to let an app send SMS or make phone calls for me, I can turn off those permissions individually for that app.  There is no way to do that in Android.  

I don't want FB messaging as a separate app that has permissions to enourmous numbers of other things.  If I get FB messages from someone, I want to read those integreated within FB itself, not as a separate app. 

FB simply wants to take over messaging on your phone, because they want to monetize it. I get that, but it doesn't mean I want them to have that much control over my phone.
10 Top Cloud Computing Startups
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  8/3/2020
How Enterprises Can Adopt Video Game Cloud Strategy
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/28/2020
Conversational AI Comes of Age
Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary,  8/7/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Special Report: Why Performance Testing is Crucial Today
This special report will help enterprises determine what they should expect from performance testing solutions and how to put them to work most efficiently. Get it today!
Flash Poll