Facebook Messenger; There’s Nothing Wrong with the ToS

If you haven’t read it yet, you should consider taking a visit to a post written on Huntington Post by Sam Fiorella entitled “The Insidiousness of Facebook Messenger’s Mobile App Terms of Service.” In Sam’s article, he points out that we are not very likely to read the terms of services for a lot of apps that we download. His observation is fairly accurate and follows some good advice.

As the title of Sam’s piece suggest, his articles focus on the Terms of Service for Facebook Messenger, the app that Facebook is slowly forcing us to use as a second app to Facebook for reasons we will get into later in the article. The major problem with Sam Fiorella’s article is that he claims to have listed the Facebook ToS word for word, but there’s a little truth to that. At the time, when Sam wrote it on December, it was more than likely very true.

Sam Fiorella’s version of Facebook’s ToS:

  • Allows the app to change the state of network connectivity
  • Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to send SMS messages. This may result in unexpected charges. Malicious apps may cost you money by sending messages without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.
  • Allows the app to read you phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.
  • Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.
  • Allows the app to read personal profile information stored on your devices, such as your name and contact information. This means the app can identify you and may send your profile information to others.
  • Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.
  • Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed.

Here’s Facebook updated version of the terms of service:

  • Change the state of network connectivity
  • Call phone numbers and send SMS messages
  • Record audio, and take pictures and videos, at any time
  • Read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls
  • Read your contact data, including who you call and email and how often
  • Read personal profile information stored on your device
  • Access the phone features of the device, like your phone number and device ID
  • Get a list of accounts known by the phone, or other apps you use.

Comparing the two, you’ll notice a lot of similarities. The main difference is that Facebook omitted the part about it doing all of these things without your permission and depending on how you look at it, and that’s largely because, by downloading Facebook and agreeing to their Terms of Service; you HAVE agreed to allow Facebook to do all of these things. But all of that is semantics. The problem remains…

Why Does Facebook Messenger Need All Those Permissions

Even if we were to take a trip back to December 2013 and use the ToS that Sam pointed out or the current day ToS, Facebook’s request to utilize these permissions are not far-fetched. Here’s a breakdown of why Facebook requests certain permissions.

Call phone numbers and send SMS messages

A lot of you may not have noticed, but Facebook can make calls and send messages.

Record audio, and take pictures and videos, at any time

Believe it or not, you can take pictures, record videos AND send audio while using Facebook Messenger. Who knew?

Read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls

Here’s one that a lot of games use too. In order to save your progress, this permission allows Facebook Messenger to save where you are in a conversation (so it doesn’t restart the app) whenever you get a phone call. More so, Facebook uses your phone log to see which friends you have on Messenger. We admit, this one isn’t as obvious as the ones we just described.

Read your contact data, including who you call and email and how often

This is another not-so-obvious permission. Have you ever noticed that people you message more often are the profiles who pop up in your timeline more than others? The reality here is that if we add people on Facebook that we aren’t close to. So in order for Facebook to get a better idea of whose Facebook post are more important to you, they analyze your data to do so.

Facebook Messenger needs to record audio if you want to send a voice message to a friend. It also needs to look at your phone calls so that when you click on their contact information while messaging them, you can see your call history with that person or even call them directly without ever having to leave Facebook Messenger. But the app needs permission to do so first.

Facebook messenger is now allowing you to call and send SMS through the app itself, so you can integrate your SMS and FB messages. If this isn’t something that you are interested in doing, the app won’t do so unless you ask it to. But the app needs permission to access those things on your device in order to do so. Facebook cannot access these things without you knowing.

There is an explanation for all of these and they aren’t as bad as the Internet is making them out to be. However, we do have to keep in mind that there are people out there who seek to cause harm to us, but Facebook isn’t one of them. You should be more concerned about that app you downloaded from that publisher you’ve never heard of before.

About the author

Tristan Thomas

Currently studying Information Technology at Georgia Southern University, Tristan uses Tech Analyzer as a venting outlet for how he interprets the technological world around him.

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