August 5, 2014 3:33 pm
Updated: August 7, 2014 1:41 pm

What you need to know about concerns over Facebook’s Messenger app

Watch above: Here’s what you need to know about Facebook’s new messenger app. Sean O’Shea reports. 

TORONTO – If Facebook’s controversial emotion manipulation study didn’t have you up in arms about the site’s privacy practices, then perhaps concerns surrounding the social network’s Messenger app will.

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Over the past week, an article citing the invasive permissions listed in the Facebook Messenger app’s Terms of Service started going viral.

Though the article – written by marketing expert Sam Fiorella for Huffington Post – was published in 2013, its revelations spread like wild fire recently due to Facebook’s announcement that all users will be forced to download the standalone app if they wish to send and receive private messages on their mobile devices.

READ MORE: Is Facebook’s Messenger app as scary as it sounds?

But the app requests a number of “insidious” (in Fiorella’s words) permissions, including the power to make phone calls and send text messages without the user knowing.

Here are some of the most alarming permissions outlined in the app’s terms of service: 

  • 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 personal profile information stored on your device, such as your name and contact information. This means the app can identify you and may send your profile information to others.

Other things listed in the permissions includes the ability to change the state of the network connectivity, ability to read the phone’s call logs, read data about contacts and access a list of accounts stored in the phone’s memory.

And while Facebook may have legitimate reasons for accessing something like your phone’s camera – let’s say, if you want to send your friend a selfie – the statement “this permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation,” does sound alarming.

READ MORE: Will Facebook lose users over its emotion manipulation study?

But these revelations aren’t new. In fact, if you have already installed the Messenger app on your smartphone you have already agreed to these terms.

The concern is that now Facebook is forcing users to download the Messenger app to send and receive messages from their Friends.

Those who have not yet downloaded the Messenger app will start receiving notifications on their devices asking them to download the app any day now.

Eventually, the social network will prevent users from sending messages through the Facebook mobile app – forcing the user to download Messenger if they chose to communicate that way.

But Messenger isn’t the only app with invasive terms.

According to the Washington Post, fitness app RunKeeper asks for permission to access your phone’s contacts and call logs, while WeatherBug wants permission to view your Wi-Fi network and other devices connected to it.

Even Kim Kardashian’s new app asks for personal data – Kim Kardashian: Hollywood tracks your location, device ID and incoming calls.

Yet despite this, some studies say less than ten per cent of web users actually read the terms of service agreements in full when downloading an app or signing up for a website.

UPDATE (Aug. 6): Many of the concerns surrounding Messenger’s app stem from the Android version.

On Android, users must agree to the permissions immediately after downloading an app – so the user sees requests for permission to “allow the app to record audio,” for example, before they may know there is an audio recording feature.

This is quite different from iOS, which asks the user to grant permission to use features as they try to access them in the app. For example, the first time the user taps on the audio recording feature in Messenger they receive a message that reads, “Messenger would like to access your microphone.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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