Facebook Messenger App Privacy

The Truth About the Facebook Messenger App and Your Privacy

Facebook Messenger App Privacy
Chances are that if you use Facebook today (and those chances are high because Facebook just passed over 1.2 billion active users), you have heard all the hype about the Facebook Messenger App. Users are now being forced to download the separate 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 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've seen shared around social media. In it, two news anchors are 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 refer to a "Tech Expert" named Anthony Mongeluzo who talks 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 states 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 (and even more).

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

As of Facebook version 14.0.0.17.13 and Facebook Messenger version 9.0.0.15.17 Facebook Mobile App Permissions List
Facebook Messenger App 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, read, and edit your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • take pictures and videos
  • record audio
  • change network connectivity
Facebook App Examples:
  • directly call phone numbers
  • read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • take pictures and videos
  • record audio
  • change network connectivity
  • read/write call log
  • read calendar events plus confidential information
Notice that many of the permissions are the same, except the Facebook App has even more permissions (and more scary looking ones at that). After all, the Facebook App is a full blown social networking app whereas the Messenger App is just a messaging app so it makes sense that the Messenger App has less permissions.

If you read all the permissions, you'll notice that the ONLY permissions that the Messenger App requests that the Facebook App doesn't is in the SMS category. Instead of just having read your text messages (SMS or MMS) like the Facebook App, the Messenger App requests permissions to receive text messages (SMS or MMS), edit your text messages (SMS or MMS), and send SMS messages.

Why does Facebook need these permissions?

Well, Facebook came out with a new help page on their site within the past few weeks to help explain to users what the permissions are used for specifically for the Messenger App. However, there was already a help page out there for the regular Facebook 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 55

  1. Pingback: Is the safety of our students at risk? | The Technological Journey of a Pre-Service Teacher

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  3. As of today you can no longer access messenger through the browser. You must download the app.

    I do not have Facebook app or messenger app, nor do I want them. I do not see the need to be always connected to 5000 virtual strangers. I prefer to slchoose to log in. I do not see the need to allow 5000 strangers to call me at will. The ones who I want to stay connected with know how to reach me.

    If Facebook was not a marketing tool for me I would be gone over this.

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    2. On Android, you *can* do facebook messaging without the facebook app. On the browser menu, select “Request desktop site”. It’s uglier to use, but you can do messaging. Everything seems to appear identically as what I see when using my laptop.

      1. P.S. — In case I wasn’t clear enough — I do not have even the facebook app installed. I was scared of the permissions of that app from the get-go. I just use Chrome. Usually I just use the mobile site, but switch to the desktop site if I want to message or do something I can’t figure out how to do on the mobile site.

        That said, I think I’m about to relent and install both apps. I don’t think they’re evil or malicious. I do trust that they’ll only use it for ads, to recommend friends from your contact list, etc. … I assume they’ll be easier to use. If not, I’ll uninstall them.

      2. Wow, thanks, Guy! I wasn’t aware of this feature. I’ve always refused to download the FB and Messenger app due to sketchy permissions, and was very annoyed when they blocked access to messaging on the mobile site. Problem solved!

  4. “you could go to Facebook on your mobile browser (not using the app) and access your messages that way” – well, not any more! I just got a notification that soon they won’t be available and if I want to see them on mobile, I’ll HAVE to download the messenger app. Sounds suspicious.
    “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” – absolutely. However, I don’t have the regular app, exactly because of the permissions. So should I be worried? Yeah, just like I’m worried about the regular app.
    Also, the SMS permission stinks like a trojan horse. You could input the stupid code by hand, it’s really not that big a hassle. But they’re asking for permission seemingly just for this one thing. And they’re really not going to use it for anything else? Yeah, right.

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      Hi Alex! I was just notified of that as well – the fact that you won’t be able to access messages through your mobile browser. That’s definitely not ideal. I will update my article to reflect those changes soon. Also, I don’t blame you for being paranoid about all the permissions even the regular Facebook app requests, it does seem that they request way more permissions than they actually truly need. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Was really surprised about the AVG permissions, my husband uses this and is usually quite savvy about downloading apps that require dodgy permissions. he refuses to even use facebook never mind the messenger.

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      I know, isn’t that crazy? Although it’s important to note that even though the apps are requesting permissions for these, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should be concerned. However, you do wonder why some apps like AVG need so many of those permissions!

  6. I agree,Alex! It sounds like bull to me. I don’t recall giving Facebook the “Ok” to invade my private information,pictures etc. I do not use Skype,Snap chat,Instagram etc. I don’t give permission for anyone to view my phone texts and/or photos shared (ei when I’m not logged into Facebook) So basically you’re saying that Facebook already sees texts and pictures I send via my phone,even though I haven’t downloaded the Messenger app??

  7. Yes that’s how come I came to this site Angella. I use FB through my Android browser because I don’t want to ‘Install’ my privacies away through their App. Now I can’t access my messages on my phone through the browser. They are so dodgey….. and yet I still enjoy FB….

  8. Do these apps retain permissions if you disable them in your general privacy settings after installing the apps? For example, I have disabled almost everything in my privacy settings for all apps except a few permissions when certain apps are in use, like location services for Google Maps, for obvious reasons…

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      Yes, the phone should honor whatever privacy settings you set after installing the apps. The only times I think those would change is if you manually changed the settings again or if the app itself asked for permissions to use something again and you granted it permissions. Thanks for the comment Peter!

  9. In order to be an effective anti-virus software, a lot of permissions are needed. For example, if your anti-virus asks for access to the microphone but not SMS and call logs (viruses can record data there) then you should avoid that anti-virus like the plague.

    The problem with the Facebook Messenger, which is not addressed in your article, is that Facebook and it’s affiliates use user data to market products and services. So messenger can do everything AVG can and more with these permissions, yet it’s not a trusted anti-virus vendor: Facebook is a marketing company. That’s plenty reason to be concerned.

    https://s31.postimg.org/o9j7e4c2j/IMG_20160804_192104.jpg

  10. When using messenger from Facebook on my phone, does this mean everything I have put on my computer will be on my phone!? Or is Facebook just there to use just messenger and does not have all the other stuff on my phone!?

  11. What I don’t like about being forced to use the messenger app is that it allows Facebook to bypass the secure sandbox that is the browser. The browser limits what can be done. The app has total power on your phone. Facebook does not know my phone number right now and I want to keep it that way. As soon as I installed either one of the Messenger app of Facebook app then they could make the connection between my phone and my account. Then they can next start seeing who else has my phone number on their phone and start showing them my Facebook account in their suggested friends list. And this will be how my abusive family will find me. Right now they can’t call me and they don’t know my Facebook account. But Messenger can break that privacy for me. That’s why I only want to use the Web for accessing Facebook.

  12. I can still access Facebook messages through my phone’s browser, I just need to specify viewing the “computer version” of the page as opposed to the default “mobile version”. Hope this helps!

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  13. With all the back-and-forth contradictory answers I’m having trouble concluding what to do about downloading the new messenger. Is there any legal conclusion that I can get directly from Facebook ?

  14. Hi my Facebook account is deactivated but messenger app was downloaded without my permission this caused major issues for me my account is deactivated about 3 years any help would be fantastic I have iPhone 6 this happen after latest iOS update

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  15. If you updated your article to reflect these changes, I’ve not seen it. I’m no longer able to access my messages via the mobile site.

    I’m so tired of FB and other apps ‘forcing’ folks to use more apps to do what we’ve done without those extra apps. They clutter up my phone and give me more crap to deal with. :/

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      Hi Sky, I have updated my article and removed the piece that say you can access your messages via the mobile site. You used to be able to do that, however now it appears that if you’re trying to access Facebook messages via a mobile app, you have to access it through the Messenger app. It is rather annoying, I agree!

  16. Thank you for this! It assuaged a lot of my fears.

    But in response to: “or you could go to Facebook on your mobile browser (not using the app) and access your messages that way” –that’s no longer allowed (at least on iPhones). I never downloaded the Facebook app, so I always check facebook via the browser on my phone, but I’m not longer allowed to access my messages that way.

    Kind of frustrating.

    But thanks for clarifying the rest!

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      Hey Jenny! Thanks for making me aware of that. I have updated the article and removed that piece. You used to be able to do that, but Facebook even took that ability away now!

  17. When trying to access a message in the browser, FB refuses to open the message and insists that I use the app.
    I have used the browser method for months, and it’s been fine.
    Xmas day that ended.
    HorsePukky.

  18. Hi can Facebook distribute or sell the images and videos you send on messenger? How private are they really? And why can’t you delete videos from the messenger app? Or on Fb messenges?

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      Hi Gracie, Facebook would not be able to distribute or sell the images/videos you send on Messenger. That would be a massive no-no. Those are private to your conversations. I personally have not tried to delete any videos sent using the Messenger app, so I’m not sure on that one!

  19. Why are we forced to use something we don’t want and to lose privacy. I do not want Messenger and never agreed to it but it is here. I’d rather throw my computer away and use a telephone (landline). Progress with the loss of privacy.

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  20. What’s all the bullshit whining about? Your phone provider also logs your calls and your location and will instantly provide law enforcement and the government any information about you they request about you, yet you pay to have your privacy open to the government. If you check online you’ll find your phone number listed somewhere without your permission, and that’s a service that you pay monthly to use. Facebook you pay nothing for. Why do people whine so much about a free service nobody forces them to use?

  21. Yeah, all I want is to be able to occasionally check messages while I’m not at home. Even before, I barely used FB on my phone. I kept my old Android (was recently given a hand-me-down iPhone 5) just so I could put my sim in so I could continue using and seeing my messages but it’s a pain in the ass. Apparently there were ways round it but I couldn’t figure it out. I don’t trust this at all. In two minds to just wing it or put up with it.

  22. There used to be something called the telephone, and then the mobile, and then something called e-mail. They still do a service. What is this constant excitable need to be 24/7 in touch with other people?

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  23. Thank you for an informative article. Found this via google when trying to find out if the apps are safe or suspect.

    Just to confirm that it still is possible to access messages without either app but the mobile browser must use desk top version of Facebook. Mobile version tries its best to get you to download the messenger app… No doubt the app versions are easier to use but I think I’ll keep using Facebook through the browser. Works fine with Chrome and Samsung Xcover 3.

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      1. I still do not use messenger, have not downloaded it, etc.
        All my android products ( phone, Tablets, pc) I use on the Desktop version and I am able to use messenger via the web browser ( Chrome or Puffin).

        Not that I “Chat” that way often, but when I do, it’s via the icon on Facebook.

        Just putting my 2 cents in.

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  24. 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.

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      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.

  25. 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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  26. 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???

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      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.

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