Stop Freaking Out About Facebook Messenger

Once again social media has rewarded the hysterical. As you may have heard, Facebook is forcing users to download their individual Messenger app if they would like to message fellow Facebook users. This has been a built-in feature to the current Facebook app, but now they are breaking it out for several reasons.

Know that Facebook is not doing this just to spite its users. Instead, Facebook is attempting to compete on a large scale with many other popular 3rd party messenger apps (Line, Kik, Whatsapp, etc.) Especially outside the U.S., 3rd party messaging apps are extremely popularand breaking out the app means Facebook can develop and focus on its messaging features to compete.

I saw numerous people sharing an article about Facebook "crossing the line" with its Messenger app (link at the bottom). Aside from the overall frantic tone of the article, many of the points against Facebook are erroneous and exaggerated. And by writing this I'm also refuting his first paragraph:

I’m trying to help explain what’s happening because if I don’t…nobody else will!

I'm addressing these points from the standpoint of an iOS user. I own an Android tablet and use Facebook Messenger on there as well, but iOS allows granular control over your app's access to phone features. Android does not, and with so many skins and customizations from Samsung, LG and the like, it's difficult to say what privacy options (if any) are available.

Side note: I find it ironic that the website hosting this article asked for My Location when visited. I denied it access in case you were wondering.

 
 

Change the state of network connectivity

You’re basically giving Facebook the ability to turn features on your phone on and off for it’s own reasons without telling you.

The article's first point conflates terms about "network connectivity." Yes, the Facebook Messenger app (like 99% of the other apps on your phone) can access your data connection in the background. Why? It's trying to deliver your messages and needs a data connection to do it. This is not new or unique. Most of the apps on your phone are doing this (hence all those notifications you get throughout the day). 

If you truly don't want the Messenger app to have any data permissions unless it's open on your screen, you can go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and turn Messenger off. 

 
On iOS, go to Settings > General > Background App refresh to revoke permissions.

On iOS, go to Settings > General > Background App refresh to revoke permissions.

 

The article eludes to the idea that the Messenger app can change your network settings or turn features "on or off". The author is not specific about what features these are, but in regards to your network, the only "change" is to pull data in the background if you allow it.

Call phone numbers and send SMS messages

…it can send text messages to your contacts on your behalf

 
You can leave "Synced Contacts" off.

You can leave "Synced Contacts" off.

 

This claim is false. I've used the Messenger app since its release (almost two years now), and it has never texted or called any of my contacts. If you choose to sync your contacts with Facebook messenger (an option you can deny on installation or change afterward), it looks for friends in your contacts and will add profile photos to recognized friends, etc. Especially on iOS, the Messenger app cannot text your contacts.

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

Read that line again….RECORD audio…TAKE pictures….AT ANY TIME!!

Again, not true. Especially on iOS. The Messenger app asks for permission to use your camera and microphone because it allows you to send photos and audio messages to your friends. If you're paranoid about this and never plan on sending images or audio memos through the app, you can go to Settings > Privacy on your iPhone and deny Messenger app to both the phone's Microphone and Photos.

 
Settings > Privacy on your iPhone

Settings > Privacy on your iPhone

 

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

Another point with no documentation or proof. To my knowledge (and according to this great forum exchange) there is not even an API for iOS apps to access your call log. This may differ on Android, and if you Jailbreak your iPhone all bets are off. Otherwise this is false.

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

If you turn on Contact Sync as mentioned in the previous point, the Messenger app will have access to your contact's information. The latter point of "who you call and email and how often" is false. iOS does not allow this.

Read personal profile information stored on your device

...addresses, personal info, pictures or anything else that’s near and dear to your personal life…they can read it.

The author's points are becoming a little long in the tooth, but again, if you turn on Synced Contacts in the Messenger app it will have access. If you leave if off, the app does not have access. Same with photos. It must access your photos in order to share them through the Messenger app. 

Get a list of accounts known by the phone, or other apps you use

Facebook will now have a tally of all the apps you use

His final point is also erroneous. Due to the sandboxing nature of iOS 3rd party apps, apps cannot see or track other apps. The Android version may be a different story, but iPhone users are safe.


It seems guaranteed that if you want traffic and lots of shares on an article, talk about privacy + Facebook. When it comes to the Messenger transition though, the only legitimate complaint I have heard is the inconvenience of two apps. Considering the number of apps on our phone already I wouldn't think one more is a deal breaker, but you can decide for yourself.

There is the option of only using Facebook messages via the web or mobile site. You'll lose the ability to get push notifications and it will be a fairly poor experience on the mobile site, but it can be done.

You can also deny the app access to your location in Settings > Privacy

You can also deny the app access to your location in Settings > Privacy

Personally, looking at the Facebook Messenger app itself, it's a fairly decent communication tool. You can mute / leave group conversations, you get read receipts and ellipses when someone is typing, you can share your location (if you give it access) with friends, and more. I use the Messenger app fairly regularly, and it's convenient as many friends change numbers, email addresses, lose their phones, etc. But seemingly everyone has a Facebook account. After all, where else are you going to vent about Facebook...but on Facebook?