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Facebook Messenger, Privacy, And Bad Journalism

Facebook Messenger, Privacy, And Bad Journalism

by Brad MerrillAugust 16, 2014

As Facebook begins forcing users over to its Messenger app for messaging on mobile, a volcano of controversy has erupted—spilling ignorance and bad journalism all over the place.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, people have taken issue with the fact that Facebook Messenger for iOS and Android requests access to features like the camera, microphone, photo gallery, and location services. The media has been featuring reports from “experts” urging you not to install the app, which they say is violating your privacy by activating your camera and microphone at “any time.” This has led to a swarm of people leaving misinformed, negative reviews about the app on iTunes based on the nonsense they saw on TV.

Why does Messenger request access to these features? That’s easy:

  • Camera: Messenger requires camera access to take and send photos within the app.
  • Microphone: Messenger requires microphone access for voice messaging and calling.
  • Photo Gallery: Messenger requires access to your photo gallery to send previously taken photos.
  • Location Services: Messenger requires access to your location services to attach locations to messages.

There’s no reason to panic. This is all perfectly legitimate functionality.

Oh, and all of these permissions are optional. You can use the app without approving any of them. You won’t be able to use the features they enable, but hey, at least you’ll have your privacy.

And if you’re really worried about privacy, there’s no reason to limit your bitching to Facebook Messenger. Plenty of apps have the same capabilities.

Just for fun, here’s a list of the apps on my iPhone that have access to my location services: Camera, Chipotle, Chrome, Compass, Domino’s, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, GasBuddy, Geocaching, Google, Instagram, Maps, Messenger, Newsbeat, Nike+ Move, Paper, RedLaser, Reminders, Running, Safari, Shazam, Shopify, Siri, Snapchat, Swarm, Tweetbot, Ustream, Vine, Weather, and WordPress.

What about my microphone, which seems to be the biggest concern? Any.DO, Instagram, Messenger, Notability, Google, Google Translate, YouTube, Shopify, Shazam, Skype, Snapchat, Vine, and Flickr.

And while we’re at it, I know you’re dying to know which apps have access to my contacts: Any.DO, Instagram, Swarm, Google+, GroupMe, LinkedIn, Cyber Dust, Running, Mailbox, Snapchat, Vine, Yo, and PayPal.

anthonyHere’s what the media is saying:

  • “Through Facebook Messenger, Facebook can call, text, record audio & video on your phone” —Fox 29 Philadelphia
  • “New Facebook app raising questions on privacy” —WFSB 3 Connecticut
  • “Facebook’s Messenger App May Be Creepier Than Your Stalker Ex And Here’s Why” —E! Online
  • “Facebook’s Messenger app has a significant amount of access to your smartphone” —
  • “Facebook’s Messenger App, which boasts more than 200,000 million [sic] monthly users, requires you to allow access to an alarming amount of personal data and, even more startling, direct control over your mobile device.” —Huffington Post

And sadly, that list barely scratches the surface.

Some of this shitstorm stems from a genuine misunderstanding of technology, which is forgivable. But when so-called “tech experts” like Anthony Mongeluzo start claiming that Facebook is watching you from all over the world, it becomes something far more sinister: fear mongering and defamation.

I’m all for exposing privacy violations when they occur, but this story is completely manufactured and indefensible.

About The Author
Brad Merrill
Brad Merrill is the founder and former editor of VentureBreak.