Why Facebook Messenger permissions aren’t unique or dangerous

People are up in arms over Facebook’s migration to Facebook Messenger. Aside from the fact that some people just hate change, there’s also been an uproar over the permissions being requested by Facebook Messenger for Android devices. Recording audio and video at any time, calling contacts without your permission, and modifying the contents of your USB storage have people crying wolf and swearing to boycott the standalone messaging app.

Before you freak out and swear off Facebook Messenger forever, you should know that it sounds much worse than it is. In fact, while the permissions requested by Facebook Messenger may sound invasive, they’re far from new, unheard of, or dangerous. Here, I’ll go through some of your favorite apps with the same permissions, and break down what they actually mean.

Part of the club

Facebook Messenger is not alone. In fact, the most popular apps on Android include most, if not all, of the exact same permissions as Facebook Messenger. Consider a few of the more popular examples below. (Note, there are many permissions that each app shares with Messenger, but I’ll go through some of the more sinister sounding ones).

Facebook

The Facebook app itself requests many of the same permissions as Messenger, and then some. Considering the fact that the Messenger function has been removed from the Facebook app, some of the terms have since been eliminated too, but if you think they weren’t already there to being with, think again. Aside from those that were removed, the app still has permission to:

facebook icon– directly call phone numbers;

– take pictures and video, and record audio;

– modify or delete the contents of your USB storage;

– read your text messages.

WhatsApp

Just like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger asks for permissions to:

– directly call phone numbers;

– take pictures and video, and record audio;

– modify system settings;

– control vibration.

Instagram

Instagram covers a lot of the same photo-sharing functions as Messenger and has permission to:

Instagram icon– find accounts on the device;

– take pictures and videos, and record audio;

– modify or delete the contents of your USB storage;

– access your location.

Twitter

Twitter has added a lot of features as of late, including picture sharing and new features for direct messaging, and asks for permission to:

twitter icon– find accounts on the device (and even add or remove accounts);

– modify or delete the contents of your USB storage;

– get your precise location;

– control vibration.

Skype

As a VOIP and messenger service, Skype asks for permission to:

Skype icon– directly call phone numbers;

– take pictures and videos, and record audio;

– change your audio settings;

– draw over other applications;

– modify system settings.

Breaking it down

It’s true, some of these permissions sound scary, but if you break them down to what they actually mean, they’re not as bad as you may think.

Directly call phone numbers:
This doesn’t mean that the app is calling phone numbers without your permission. There’s an option to call friends directly within the app using the handset button, which lets you place calls over Wi-Fi or through your mobile network.

Edit/read/receive text messages:
Similar to the above, you can send and receive text messages to and from people who aren’t using messenger, which explains why it’d need access to phone numbers.

Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage:
Again, Facebook isn’t going into your phone to delete your photos. It requests access so that when you receive a photo from a friend, it can temporarily save it in your cache so that it doesn’t have to load the image every time you want to view it. If you delete the photo, it’ll get removed from the cache too. It also means that you can send photos from your library through the app.

Precise location:
This one is kind of a no-brainer, but if you want to share your location, Facebook needs permission to do so. The same goes for apps like WhatsApp and Instagram, especially if you want to geo-tag your location.

Take pictures and video, and record audio:
This lets you take and send pictures, videos and record audio messages within the app. Again, pretty standard for any messaging or social service.

Find accounts on the device:
Because many apps are now linked, letting the app access the ones already on your device makes them a lot easier to set up. If you already have the Facebook app, it’ll easily sync between the two without you having to sign-in again.

Modify system settings:
The modification of system settings works to make the app function better, and it includes things like volume control, settings, Wi-Fi utilities, and GPS. It also makes things easier for you because you don’t have to rifle through the settings yourself to switch Wi-Fi on and off, for example.

Change your audio settings:
This just lets the app adjust audio settings when you’re recording a video, voice note, or sending an audio message.

Draw over other applications:
This lets the app create pop-ups over the interface, like the Facebook chat-heads feature, or a widget. Skype does the same thing when it shows you your Skype calls in the corner while you’re navigating through your Android device.

Control vibration:
No, your phone will not be vibrating at random intervals just because Facebook wants it to. This simply gives the app the ability to send you vibrating notifications if you chose to set them.

While it might sound scary, most of these are actually standard permissions for any messaging or social app. The fact that they sound worse than they are can be attributed to Google.

Google controls the language

Google actually controls the language used in permissions, meaning they have to match certain permissions to certain functions the app performs, even if they aren’t 100% accurate.

As Facebook stated, “Almost all apps need certain permissions to run on Android, and we use these permissions to run features in the app. Keep in mind that Android controls the way the permissions are named, and the way they’re named doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them.”

So, while it may state that it can ‘directly call phone numbers’, that doesn’t mean it will scroll through your contact list and start randomly calling people.

Why don’t iOS users have the same problem?

When it comes to app permissions, Apple does it on a more ad-hoc basis. Only after you’ve downloaded and started using the app do permission notifications start popping up– as you need them– from where you can accept or reject access. Google, on the other hand, asks you for all the permissions upfront and makes you accept them before using the app.

Don’t worry (unless there’s a reason to)

The point here isn’t to scare you into not using any of these apps. It’s the exact opposite: many of the apps you already use ask for the exact same permissions, and while they may seem invasive, they’re pretty standard these days. These permissions only become worrisome if you’ve downloaded a malicious app that may be trying to access data on your phone. One good thing about all the uproar over Facebook Messenger? At least people appear to be reading permissions without blindly accepting them.

Still, unless you plan on boycotting Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and the like (or if you truly can’t stand using a separate Facebook app for messaging), there’s no amplified risk in downloading and using Facebook Messenger. Go ahead and enjoy chatting with your friends again, and remember, change isn’t always a bad thing.

Download Facebook Messenger for iOS | Android | Blackberry | Windows Phone

If you really want to know when to be concerned, read our article detailing all of Android’s permissions, and when you should be concerned.

Follow me on Twitter @suzieblaszQwicz

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