Facebook Messenger "privacy concerns" are due to lack of understanding of technology

August 09, 2014  •  1 Comment

The renewed "concerns" about Facebook's mobile Messenger app's privacy policy might be due to a general lack of understanding among users of how technology works.  In this post, I debunk some of the fears raised by fear-mongering bloggers -- who find a ready audience due to a deep lack of trust in a big, fast growing technology startup which is innovating and delivering technology interfaces never used before.  

Smartphones for smart people?

These bloggers get caught up in overly explicit legal terms probably meant as a CYA ("Cover Your Ass") by a global corporation like Facebook to avoid getting sued by regulators around the world (a la Microsoft in the 1990s).  A conspiracy theory goes viral and next thing you know, there is that paranoid friend who refuses to switch from their archaic Nokia "flip" phone to a "smart"phone.  (I guess it makes sense -- one should be at least a little bit smart to use a smartphone!).  

While there are many examples of these "concerns", I will pick one that showed up in my Facebook feed twice, along with an admonition by my friend to those who use the app: "Two words. Just don't."  That made me smile and I had to write this post. 

Show the terms!

The first thing I noticed with this example fearful blog post was that it did not quote the original Facebook terms anywhere.  When analyzing legalese, I think it is important to provide the actual terms so readers can draw their conclusions instead of going by one person's half-baked views.  My cursory search could not find a blog where the actual terms from Facebook were linked to.  I looked at Sam Fiorella's blog (which supposedly started this whole 'controversy') and could not find a link to the actual terms. 

So I did that instead.  Here is a link to access Facebook's privacy policy for mobile apps as well as their complete Data Usage policy.  No where in these terms does it have the rather crude and simplistic language of the "concerns" blow that these bloggers claim they are posting "word to word" from Facebook's terms.  The only reason for people getting spooked might be the app permissions that the mobile app requests on the Android and IOS devices.  My views on those permissions below.  

The "Concerns"

Most of these blog posts mention the concerns below about what the Facebook app can do, given the permissions: 

  • "Change the state of network connectivity".  This is pretty self-explanatory.  It is quite reasonable to expect a mobile app to want to initiate a data connection to send and receive information including push alerts or to check for updates or sync data back and forth from the cloud to the mobile client. 
  • Call phone numbers and send SMS messages". This can be something as simple as a "click-to-dial" ability or send SMS notifications to people on your friend's list who are at the same concert or movie theater as you should you choose to do so.  
  • Allows the app to record audio with microphone".  Given the rapidly growing interest in voice recognition and voice-driven searching and apps control, it is hardly a surprise that Facebook would want to do that.  It could also be used in the future for a SoundHound like service that allows recognizing the soundtracks for the ambient music, etc.  
  • Allows the app to read you phone's call log".  At its core, Facebook wants to be a big-data analysis engine that allows for personalization of users' experiences and allows tailoring content (primarily advertising) to an extent that would have never been possible.  I can see in the future the possibility of Facebook scanning the call log and if it finds patterns that it can recognize (for example you call the 1-800# of a company very often or you call certain friends more frequently than others) it could use your patterns to allow you to receive more content from that friend in your news feed or allow that company to send you special offers and promotions. 

I could go through all the concerns but I think people are missing the point, hence I would just stick to stating the point. For those interested, Facebook has explained its mobile app permissions here.

The Point

Facebook is primarily a digital marketing engine.  Even someone with a basic understanding of its revenue model (which is largely based on ad-sales revenue) would understand that the commercial value of Facebook to advertisers is in its innovative ability to tailor and personalize content and have an intimate and deep understanding of the consumer's habits, patterns, preferences and social connections.  

It is no different from what Amazon started 15 years ago by recommending "similar books" to people who were browsing or buying a book.  "Other customers who bought this book also bought....".  That personalization and analysis will be taken to an extreme by Facebook and other marketing automation apps. 

If someone is uncomfortable with it, they don't have to participate in it.  Just don't use Facebook!  But my guess is a large majority of people will like to keep up with the times. 

 


Comments

1.I don't do Facebook because ... ?(non-registered)
I still don't do social media. I do text occasionally.

It will be nice to hear about your travels.
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