Facebook Messenger App Privacy

The Truth About the Facebook Messenger App and Your Privacy

Facebook Messenger App Privacy
Recently Updated!
This article was just recently updated with new information on October 17, 2017.

Chances are that if you use Facebook today (and those chances are high because Facebook just passed over 2 billion active users), you have heard all the hype about the Facebook Messenger App and concerns over Facebook Messenger privacy. Users are now being forced to download the separate Facebook Messenger App if they want to use messaging through the Facebook app itself for mobile. Not only is that a burden, but Facebook asks for more permissions than the average app in order for you to be able to download the app and, let’s be honest, the permissions are a little frightening when you start looking into them.


So, should you be worried about your privacy if you download the Facebook Messenger App? Should you not? What do the permissions actually mean and why does Facebook need them? Is Facebook the only app with these "invasive" permissions? This post hopes to answer all that.

I want to start with reacting to a video that I saw shared around social media a few years ago when I wrote this post. In it, two news anchors were discussing the recent Facebook Messenger App and how many users are worried that Facebook is crossing the line and invading everyone's privacy. Then, they referred to a "Tech Expert" named Anthony Mongeluzo who talked about how Facebook can use the permissions that you agree to in order to "use your recording device and your camera device on your phone without even telling you". Also, he stated that if you text someone that you want something (such as a "Nike Fit Band" as he refers to it), that Facebook will start popping up ads for "Nike Fit Bands".

NONE of this is true! Nowhere in the permissions does it say that it can use your camera or microphone at any time. Furthermore, if you text someone that you want something, ads will not start popping up on Facebook for that item. If anything, it will be using the cookies within your browser and the pages you've visited to give you "relevant" ads. This "Tech Expert" Anthony is a sad excuse for an expert. He refers to the WhatsApp Messenger App as "What's Up App" and calls Nike FuelBands "Nike Fit Bands". Just because you heard it from a "news source" online does not mean it's true. The media loves to scare people because it causes buzz and causes their story to get out there and people to listen.

Secondly, let me get this out there.

If you have the regular Facebook App downloaded, you already have agreed to nearly all the permissions that the Facebook Messenger App requests!

Yes, you heard that correctly. The regular Facebook app (not the Messenger app) uses nearly all the same permissions as the Messenger app does.

Don't believe me? Check this out (click on picture for full size):

As of Facebook version 145.0.0.37.86 and Facebook Messenger version 139.0.0.17.85

Facebook Mobile App Privacy Permissions List
Facebook Messenger App Privacy Permissions List

In the above pictures, you'll see screenshots of the Facebook app and the Messenger app's permissions (with some overlap) laid out side by side. After reading through them, some of them stand out as being pretty scary if you've never looked into these before (some are listed below).

Messenger App Examples:

  • directly call phone numbers
  • receive and read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • take pictures and videos
  • record audio
  • change network connectivity
  • download files without notification
  • read calendar events plus confidential information
Facebook App Examples:

  • read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • take pictures and videos
  • record audio
  • change network connectivity
  • download files without notification
  • read calendar events plus confidential information

Notice that many of the permissions are the same, and the two apps request nearly identical permissions (with a few differences). After all, you are able to call people directly using the Facebook Messenger app which explains why it has a few differences from the regular Facebook app such as permission to directly call phone numbers.

Why does Facebook need these permissions?

Well, Facebook has some pages in their Help Center to explain to users what the permissions are used for. The pages have an explanation for both the regular Facebook App and the Facebook Messenger App.

See these links:

Some examples Facebook provides as to why they need those permissions (can also be found in the links above):

  • Read your text messages (SMS or MMS) - If you add a phone number to your account, this allows us to confirm your phone number automatically by finding the confirmation code that we send via text message.
  • Take pictures and video - This permission allows you to take photos and videos within the Messenger app to easily send to your friends and other contacts.
  • Record audio - This permission allows you to send voice messages, make free voice calls, and send videos within Messenger.
  • Directly call phone numbers - This permission allows you to call a Messenger contact by tapping on the person's phone number, found in a menu within your message thread with the person.
  • Read calendar events plus confidential information - This allows the app to show your calendar availability (based on your phone’s calendar) when you’re viewing an event on Facebook.

Another thing that is important to note -- An application needs permissions in order to get its features to work. I have even developed some basic Android apps in the past for fun that required some of these permissions. For example, if there is a button within your application that allows the user to take a picture or video, the developer needs to require permissions to take pictures and videos along with the permission to record audio. Otherwise, that button is useless because it won't do anything. Simple as that.

Is Facebook the only app with these "invasive" permissions?

Absolutely not. This is something that you would think is common sense, but apparently it's not. There are plenty of other apps out there that use many of these same permissions.

Here is a list of most of the "invasive" permissions listed above that the Facebook and Messenger App use along with other popular apps that use those same permissions:

I think you get the point. In my research, the app that surprised me the most was AVG AntiVirus Security. It requested nearly all the same permissions as the Facebook Messenger App except for a couple. Yet, I don't see everyone up in arms about their privacy when they download AVG... quick! Somebody tell the media. Perhaps they can make a video to scare everyone about it.

Should you be worried about your privacy with the Facebook Messenger App or no?

The answer is NO! The point I'm trying to make with this post is that... you shouldn't be any more worried about your privacy than you were before the Messenger App became mandatory in order to access your messages through the regular Facebook App.

Why? Because it uses almost every single permission that the regular Facebook App uses. Not to mention, based on the number of downloads listed for the other popular apps above, chances are that you use at least one of those apps and those apps use many of the same permissions as the Facebook Messenger App.

If you truly still believe that Facebook can "access your recording devices at any time", well guess what, you agreed to those same permissions with the regular Facebook App, or WhatsApp, or Skype, or Snapchat, or many other apps.

The bottom line...

Is that Facebook is using the information they gather about each individual user so that they can sell that information to third-party companies. This is how Facebook monetizes the data they receive. Without it, they wouldn't be in business. Not sure how your data is used? You can poke through the various categories on the Facebook Data Use Policy page.

The part we should be worried about is the fact that, regardless of any permission that any app could ever ask us, much of online Internet data (whether that be Facebook chats, websites visited, pictures sent, etc.) goes directly to the NSA because apparently we all need to be tracked. But that's a whole other conversation...

Still not convinced and want alternatives?

Easy. You don't have to download the Messenger App. You can access your messages via the desktop version of Facebook. Or... you could just use another messaging app! There are plenty out there -- WhatsApp, Kik, Skype, etc.

Happy messaging!

Comments 76

  1. Facebook Messenger is like a frickin virus. It takes over your SMS, phone, contacts, and they force you to download it just so you can view your facebook messages. Chat heads pop up automatically, dominating your phone.

    In essence, Facebook is trying to hijack your (at least Android) phone without taking the time to build their own operating system.

    I use Metal. Facebooks two apps are over a gig and Metal is less than a quarter of that and far less intrusive.

    Sorry, I didn’t buy my damn phone from Facebook – so you can’t take it over and make it my Facebook phone. People who take this lying down are idiots. My facebook app should be just that – for facebook. It shouldn’t be taking over my text messages or phone calls – period.

    These updates are a sly way of installing bloated crap.

    1. Post
      Author

      I understand some of your frustrations. You should also keep in mind that many of those things are customizable. For example, you talked about the chat heads popping up and dominating your phone. Those can easily be turned off with a switch in settings. I turned mine off right away.

  2. This is strange, but I have been able to access my messages on the mobile version of chrome without any issues, but just recently (past 2 days), i’ve had “block ups” that tell me i will soon be unable to access messages unless I download messenger.

    Seems a bit heavy-handed to me.

    They already have a perfectly reliable messaging system with multiple platforms for use. I can’t believe they are solely interested in my satisfaction; if they were, they would leave well enough alone.

    No, they are purely interested in monetization of my personal information.

    For what it’s worth, they permission descriptions discussed are not part of any contract or EULA, so they should be considered what they are: one aspect of permission usage.

    I have no doubt that they will bundle the metadata from sms and text messages with other collected data to better profile their users and profit off of them.

    I understand that the product they offer is contingent upon that data being used, but I am not nor should I be expected to willingly forfeit all expectations of privacy. I will delete my account before I do that.

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  3. I find it interesting that in this article it is stated “Furthermore, if you text someone that you want something, ads will not start popping up on Facebook for that item.” – yet my wife experienced almost exactly that a few days ago! She had directly Private Messaged a friend on Messenger and shared a recipe for a dessert and within minutes she received a notification from Pinterest about Pins she may be interested in, and those pins were all about that recipe!

    How did THAT happen???

    1. Post
      Author

      If she private messaged a friend about a recipe for a dessert, she more than likely visited the website for that dessert recipe. Therefore, if she visited the website for that dessert recipe, there were cookies in her browser that remembered what page she visited and she received relevant ads/pages from that. The action of her private messaging it to her friend had nothing to do with that.

  4. I am still able to access fb messages by using the desktop version. I bookmarked it on my iPhone’s safari so it’s easy to use but annoying bc you need to zoom and zoom out. It can also be quite glitchy.

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      Author

      Yeah I know what you mean. It’s basically using the desktop version of the website on your phone so it’s not optimized for a mobile screen hence why you have to zoom in and out and why it doesn’t appear to work very smoothly. But that’s one way to do it!

  5. My husband pulled out our air conditioner air filter 2 days ago. Noticed it was dirty. He went to work and I texted him a reminder from my phone to pick one up on his way back. I did not email him, send him a FB message, or search “air filters” on my computer. In fact, the words “air filter” or anything related have not been typed onto this computer whatsoever, and it is the only computer I use. My husband does not use this computer either, and none of my accounts are active on his computer. This morning I noticed there are air filter ads on my FB feed. Can you explain what may have happened because I find this all too strange and encroaching.

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      Author
  6. Dear Crambler,

    I learned a lot from reading your article and other people’s comments and reactions. Thanks so much for doing this!

    P.S. I am one of those reluctant users of Facebook that doesn’t trust the enterprise one bit.

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      Author
  7. Anyone use WhatsApp along with Facebook Messenger? I have both and I think I got one message from WhatsApp. Thinking about getting rid of that and keeping Messenger for the time being. Thoughts?

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  8. What I like about WhatsApp vs Messenger is that it’s end to end encrypted and has two factor authentication. No snooping like there is with Messenger.

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      Author

      That’s certainly nice! I am thinking more and more about trying WhatsApp out. I love the fact that they have end-to-end encryption in their messages – helps make people feel safe and that their information is secure. I was just reading about it on their site! Thanks for the comment, Doug!

  9. This is very interesting. Thanks for all of the info.

    Today a retired cop I work with told me she uninstalled Messenger. She said she just read something about the latest update allowing it to use the app via your camera and mic to spy on you.

    She isn’t a paranoid person. I’ve been searching to see if I can find what she read. She doesn’t remember the particular resource.

    Have you heard anything about this? I uninstalled the app. I have been able to access it using Puffin browser app in desktop mode.

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      Author

      Thanks for the comment, Susan! No, I have not heard of that at all. If that were actually happening, that would be a huge privacy breach and word would get out fast if that were actually true. The app needs access to your camera and mic so that you can make video calls or audio calls from the app, just as thousands of others app do the same.

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  10. Today I read the updated Terms for Use and agreement for Snapchat. Seems like we are getting very naive – they dare to publish it in “layman” terms making it easier to grasp the true nature and meaning. My advise; stop using all services that demands access to Your Life and Privacy.
    They benefit greatly by harvesting, storing and later on selling that data. And you suspect nothing.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Eric,

      Reading the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy is always a good idea with any company if people are concerned about the privacy of their data. Although, I agree, many companies have a bunch of “legal jargon” written in there which makes it hard for the average person to understand. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  11. Have you heard about people getting hacked or having their identity stolen from using the Facebook Messenger App? This has happened to a couple of people that I know which is what makes me nervous!

    Thank you for the article – very helpful! I’m still on the fence, but this helped clarify a bit.

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      Author

      Hi Kris! No, I have not heard of that. The only way I can see that happening is if someone gave out all their sensitive information to someone who was pretending to be somebody else online on the Facebook Messenger App. There will always be “hackers” out there trying to get information they’re not supposed to have. Always be smart online!

  12. My question is if I have someone on messenger can they still access my Facebook if I have them block on Facebook and not my friend on Facebook

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      Author

      If you have somebody completely blocked on Facebook, they should never be able to see your profile or anything. In fact, your name won’t even pop up if they try and search it.

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