People are concerned about the new Facebook Messenger app. The fear is that Facebook is trying to use our personal and private information in ways we never intended. Imagine being in the restroom and the camera on your phone taking a picture without you realizing it. That is something to give consideration to, but what is really going on with Facebook?
To begin with, people’s concerns are not really over the possibility that Facebook might turn on the camera without their knowledge, but rather that Facebook asked permission to turn on their camera, use their location, access their contacts lists, etc. It happened when the app installed. Facebook asks for permission and people began to question, “What do they intend to use this information for?” If Facebook hadn’t asked, people wouldn’t have given it any thought that the app would be using stuff like that.
I’ll prove my point by saying that you probably have a flashlight app on your phone. If it is like mine, it turns on the focus light and keeps it on so that it acts like a flashlight. The one I have also gives information about whether the phone is facing North, South, East, or West. In other words, it is using the camera and accessing location information, and the only permission it needs is that I run the application. Facebook messenger is somewhat different because it is running as a background task. But consider all the apps you install on your phone. Any one of them can access the same devices on your phone that Facebook Messenger can.
Do you trust the apps you have on your phone? It is ironic that people will install a flashlight app written by someone they don’t know without giving it a second thought, but people are concerned about the Facebook Messenger app. Think about it. Facebook already has access to your personal information. They know where you live. They know who your friends are. They know what you ate for breakfast. They know where you went on vacation. If you trusted them with that, then why are you concerned that they might take pictures or track your movements?
But they asked permission to do things I’m not sure they should be doing. Yes, but that is actually for your protection. Have you noticed that when you visit a website with your phone that it might give you a popup that asks if it can use your location? There are rules in place that prevent websites and mobile apps from using location information without the user’s permission. Anyone can write an app for a mobile phone, including some unscrupulous people. You don’t want them to know where you are, but you do want companies that tell you how to get from point A to point B to know where you are. Suppose you are in a department store and open their app. Wouldn’t you want it to be able to tell you that the item you’re looking for is two aisles over? But computers are dumb. They can’t tell the department store that you trust from the person you don’t. By asking permission, you make the decision of whether to trust the app or not. Facebook was just following the rules.
So, you do what you want to do, but I plan on keeping the Facebook Messenger app on my phone. If I’m going to give that kind of information to someone, I would rather give it to someone who already has it. That’s not to say that I trust Facebook completely, but I think they realize that they would risk destroying their company if they start exploiting the information inappropriately. On the other hand, we would probably be safer if we would remove some of this software written by fly-by-night software developers.