Diane from Ohio asks:

I saw this post on Facebook. I’m not very tech-savvy, but it has me concerned.

“First, this is VERY important to read and understand. I’m doing my best to look out for all the Facebook Users who aren’t as tech savvy as their kids or friends. I’m trying to help explain what’s happening because if I don’t…nobody else will!

If you’re anything like your neighbor…you probably use Facebook on your phone WAY more than you use it on a computer. You’ve been sending messages from the Facebook app and it probably always asks you if you want to install the Facebook Messenger App.

It’s always been OPTIONAL but coming soon to your Facebook experience….it won’t be an option…it will be mandatory if you care to send messages from your phone.

No big deal one might think…but the part that the average Facebook User doesn’t realize is the permissions you must give to Facebook in order to use the Facebook Messenger App. Here is a short list of the most disturbing permissions it requires and a quick explanation of what it means to you and your privacy.

  • Change the state of network connectivity – This means that Facebook can change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service. You’re basically giving Facebook the ability to turn features on your phone on and off for it’s own reasons without telling you.
  • Call phone numbers and send SMS messages – This means that if Facebook wants to…it can send text messages to your contacts on your behalf. Do you see the trouble in this? Who is Facebook to be able to access and send messages on your phone? You’re basically giving a stranger your phone and telling them to do what they want when they want!
  • Record audio, and take pictures and videos, at any time – Read that line again….RECORD audio…TAKE pictures….AT ANY TIME!! That means that the folks at Facebook can see through your lens on your phone whenever they want..they can listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to!!

 I cut the length of the original question because it would take up this whole article, but I would like to address the major points. First of all, if you have the Facebook mobile app, you’ve already authorized the same permissions for the Facebook App, so these permissions are nothing new.  Also saying that an app is mandatory if your want to message is misleading, because there are multiple apps that allow you to message available out there, but most of them will need those same kinds of permissions.

Let’s look at a few of the claims in this article:

1. Changing the state of network connectivity: If your phone is not connected to Wifi and you decide to send a message, your phone needs to connect to WiFi. Waking your phone up from sleep to notify you of a message is changing the state of the network connectivity. This doesn’t mean that you’ve given Facebook permission to turn your phone on or off on a whim.

2. Calling Phone Numbers or sending SMS messages: Calling phone numbers is an options in Messenger, you can choose to call people.  In order for that to work, the app needs permission to use the phone.  This does not give FB free rein to make phone calls.

3. Record audio, video and pictures at any time:  The “at any time” part is not true. The permissions allow you to activate your camera or the microphone when you choose to take a photo or video or record audio within messenger.  It does not authorize anyone to turn on your camera when they feel like it.

Here’s the bottom line – Facebook does trade in information such as your contacts and the posts you visit, like and comment on to target advertising to you. That’s the price you pay to use Facebook, you look at their ads. Using conveniences like Facebook Connect to log in to apps and onto websites does require you to share information about the apps you are using.

All of those free apps and services like Gmail, Instagram, Google Search and Angry Birds trade in information instead of charging you a fee.

I believe we do need to read app permissions and understand them. I wouldn’t give a game permission to know my location, but I would a map service and I have also granted that to apps like Facebook and Instagram because I tag photos with locations.

The reasons behind splitting Facebook and Messenger into two distinct apps are many. Facebook wants to become the dominant player in the messenger field even for those who don’t enjoy social media. Both Facebook and messenger should be faster now that the FB app isn’t trying to accomplish two functions at once. With Messenger, you can receive and respond to FB messages without opening the Facebook app or leaving another app.

There’s much more about those permissions over at Snopes.com.

~ Cynthia