Aug. 24 2014

Facebook Messenger

I was in a meeting last week where someone had asked my opinion about Facebook Messenger. I had heard a little here and there, but hadn’t done enough research to give them a straight answer other than “I still use it myself and I trust Facebook.” As the CEO of the firm they hired to handle their IT, that answer wasn’t acceptable to me so I figured it was time to do a little research.

What is Facebook Messenger?

Facebook Messenger is Facebook’s standalone app for instant communication with friends and functions similarly to the chat on the desktop site. It allows you to take advantage of the chat heads feature and can be turned into your texting app.

Security Concerns

Back in December, a Huffington Post blog post went viral calling the Facebook Messenger “insidious” and incited a lot of controversy throughout the Internet. The fact Facebook made the move in April to require Messenger to use the chat feature on mobile phones fueled the fire.

Like a game of Chinese whispers, the original concerns were turned into the app being able to take control of your phone and it was even reported the app is a NSA backdoor!

The concerns come from the permissions requested by the application which included reading contacts, seeing text messages, making and detecting active phone calls, recording audio, controlling your camera, and others. In theory, you are giving permission to Messenger to possibly take over your phone and read everything you do.

The permissions requested by Messenger are neither uncommon nor unreasonable. For instance, the permission for knowing when you’re on an active call is probably used to not disturb you when you’re on the phone. The permissions are for specific features and aren’t constantly recording your data.

You can read about the concerns more in depth on Snopes, the Washington Post, and Tech Republic.

Debunking the Myths

Let’s go over a few of the more popular myths circulating around and debunk them.

Messenger wants access to your microphone to record you. You have the ability to record and send voice messages to your friends from within the app. The microphone permission allows Messenger to use your phone’s microphone to record those voice messages.

Messenger wants to be able to send text messages without your permission. Facebook reports the app asks for this permission to be able to confirm your phone number during the initial setup by sending a text message to your phone, having Messenger automatically intercept it, and delete it when its done without needing any interaction from you.

Messenger is a new app. Messenger has been around since 2011. I’ve been a happy user of the app since it rolled out with chatheads! (Snopes even incorrectly states the app is new in its page.)

Facebook Terms of Service for Messenger are different from and more intrusive than their standard policy. All of its mobile apps have the same terms which have to also comply with Apple and Google requirements.

Will I keep using it?

Absolutely. I trust that Facebook would not be malicious with the permissions I’ve granted to its app especially since I already trust them with a good bit of my sensitive conversions through Messenger and documentation of my life through its primary social service.

Will you continue to use it? Let me know below.


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Dedicated to my mom, Sharon. May she rest peacefully.
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