Facebook Messenger - is the privacy compromised?

I remember a time when I used to go to my female friend's place and knock on her door. And if she or her father opened it, I would be real glad. But if it's her mom, I would generally flee before she could ask me questions. Then came the telephone era. It became pretty easy. But the phone is generally picked up by pa, ma or bro of my friend. I would cut the call immediately. At the end I guess God looked down on all the boys and threw the mobile phone from heaven. There's hardly any possibility left for any of the relatives to pick the call other than the owner of the phone.

It was not enough. Facebook joined the mobile phone market. And Whatsapp became a household name. In fact, couple of months back when I didn't have the Whatsapp installed on my phone, I was almost a laughing stock among my friends. Of course it made sense. I was spending money on calls and messages. Now I can atleast message for free.

Then came the Facebook Messenger.

What is Facebook Messenger?

Facebook Messenger is an application by Facebook that allows one to chat with her/his Facebook friends and send SMS and text messages to any contact on the phone. Briefly, it is a standalone version of the instant chat feature within the social network. The application also allows one to make free calls to other Facebook Messenger users.

Although Facebook Messenger has been available in the app stores since 2011, Facebook users were reluctant to downloaded the app.

The Switch from Facebook to Messenger

Initially Facebook allowed one to send or receive messages directly on her/his Android or iOS phone through the Facebook app. But Facebook sent an email to users on July 28, 2014, stating that messages will soon be disappearing from Facebook's iPhone and Android app and users will only be able to check messages via the web or Facebook Messenger app (users of the main app will still get message notifications, however).

Now, suddenly Facebook mobile users are forced to download the Messenger app and users aren't happy about it, which includes me. The changes took off on August 6, 2014 and started affecting users of the iPhone and Android app. According to Facebook - "switching to Messenger will benefit all users as messaging with Messenger is faster and more reliable." But keeping the benefits aside, who will be happy if s/he is forced to do something?

Messenger Privacy Issue

Intitially there was an uproar regarding personal data being shared for access to the Facebook Messenger app. The app requires one to allow access to a good amount of personal data from the mobile device and takes direct control over the cell phone. The permissions that may be governing the app's functionality on an Android device can be found on Settings → Apps or Application Manager → Messenger.

The Acceptance of the Permissions -
Now, some of the permissions asked by Facebook Messenger are pretty aggressive. Should we get alarmed? Apart from forcing people to download the app Facebook actually can't do any of the things above without the user initiating them. It needs the permission in advance. The app actually can't call your girlfriend in the middle of the night while you are asleep. That will be ridiculous.

Facebook says, "Much of the problem is due to Android's rigid policy on permissions. The language in the permissions does not necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them." Facebook doesn't get to write its own, and instead must use generic language provided to them by Android.

If you read thoroughly, the permission of the Messenger app are quite similar to the Facebook app. The bottom line is users are not giving up a significant amount of additional privacy in the process. Almost all apps need certain permissions to run on Android or iOS, and Facebook use these permissions to help enable features in the app. Like 'Take pictures and videos' permission actually allows one to take photos and videos within the Messenger app to easily send to her/his friends and other contacts. Similarly 'Read your contacts' permission allows one to add her/his phone contacts as Messenger contacts if s/he chooses to do so. One can always stop syncing her/his phone contacts by going to the Messenger settings.

So, once you download the Messenger app, is the privacy compromised? For now I would say no. But don't keep a blind faith. Read the 'Terms of Service' carefully before downloading any app.
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  1. Why were you happy if your girlfriend's dad opened the door?

    1. Better than the others. Moms are the ones you should be careful of.

  2. Looks like nothing to be paranoid about yet

    1. Yup. Not so far, no. But once you give permission to Messenger to take photos or record videos, you can't be too sure of hackers or other apps.

  3. can't people see you when your on the app? like one if your friends without being aware? because i heard that somewhere

    1. Only if you have selected the Facebook Chat. Deselect the tab.

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