Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why Facebook Messenger Privacy IS An Issue And Why You Should Be Concerned

Over the past week you've likely read several reports raising concerns over Facebook's new messenger app and the alarming number of permissions the app requests access to. While many sites, including Facebook themselves, have tried to detract from the original reports, stating that those articles are from alarmists that don't really understand the app permissions. That doesn't mean that you should trust buy into those reports any further than you should the original flag raisers.

Why is everyone so concerned about the Facebook App?

First let me start by explaining why so many people have raised flags over the new app and why they are voicing concerns. When installed the Facebook Messenger App requests what many see as a rather large number of permissions. Those include the ability to take pictures and videos; record audio; send/receive and edit text messages; and read your calls logs and contacts - all things Facebook says you need in order to contact and interact with your Facebook friends within the app.

The concern here, and in my opinion rightfully so, is that there are no specific details as to how these permission will be used.  In their response, Facebook said "that Android controls the way the permissions are named, and the way they're named doesn't necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them." This doesn't exactly detail what these permissions are doing however. For instance, why does Facebook need to see me phone's contact information given my friends list on FB should already be accessible to the app? Or why does it need direct call or SMS/MMS access if I'm only using the app to send messages?

Sure the Facebook Messenger app does need some of these permission for authentic reasoning, but it hardly needs all of them. So why add them? My guess it is future thinking on Facebook's part. They want the app to become your go to service for all your messaging and calling needs. So they add those permissions now just in case they launch more services down the road.

What about my privacy? Why should I still be concerned?

Let me say first and foremost this boils down to one thing and one thing only! Do you really trust Facebook (or any other site for that matter) with access to your entire device, your location and all these permissions? You are trusting that they won't do anything bad, negligent ect with all that information they are collecting on you. So the question here is should you really trust them, or trust that they won't sale that information?

What they did with that so called 'emotional experiment' should show just how much influence your devices and social media websites can have over your daily life. If they are willing to cross that line the where does it stop? Facebook is already utilizing location information and background noise to start control the ads you see and the info you see in your news feed. Controlling what information a person has access to can be a very powerful tool and a very harmful one if used wrongly.

This is where most of my main concern comes from. The overall scope of data they are accessing and the overall lack of transparency shown when it comes to how they are using that data and these new permissions.

Unified services mean an end-all to privacy!

It wasn't too long ago that we used several services to satisfy all of our communications and web needs. You had separate services providers for search, email, chat and social media. The a few years ago many of those services started to blend into what we have now. Unified service providers with unified log-ins. These days you likely use your Facebook log-in for more than just Facebook and of course your Google log-in now works across all Google services and likely many of your favorite sites.

While this makes things easier for the end user it also makes it easier for these sites and services to closer track their users which in turn quickly erode away at your privacy. When Google unified its privacy policy it quickly came under fire with a lawsuit filed via EPIC. In that case the concern was that the aggregated data would allow for more accurate, targeted advertising.

The problem there lies not with the actual social media services, but Google's back end advertising service that is being tied to all the rest of its sites. This is similarly where we sit today with Facebook and some of the concern over the site's policies. Previously most of our social media sites where just that, websites not actual services. Today those sites looking to diversify want to become our all-in-on location for more services. Facebook, Apple, Google et al. don't just run single side services anymore. They run giant conglomerations all tied together that provide many different services under the guise of one entity.

These giant entities now have cross platform access to higher levels of user data than ever before! They can not only access emails, messages and on-site data. But they are accessing user location information, daily habits, and off site information and details (something Facebook is currently facing lawsuits over).

I for one think it is about time that someone starts to question the validity of these unified services and privacy policies. How about you? Do you think this is 'much ado about nothing'? Or are users concerns really valid?

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