Case in point: Facebook‘s Messenger App, which boasts over 1,000,000,000 downloads, requires the acceptance of an alarming amount of personal data and, even more startling, direct control over your mobile device.
I’m willing to bet that few, if any, of those who downloaded this app read the full Terms of Service before accepting them and downloading the app.
The Facebook Messenger app is a standalone version of the instant chat feature within the social network. You can easily access this within the Facebook app on your mobile device, but opening the full application also requires more memory, bandwidth, and battery life.
As a result, Facebook offers this one feature as a standalone app in which you can instantly chat with your Facebook friends without having to launch the full Facebook app.
If you’re one of those 1,000,000,000 people who have downloaded this app, take a moment to read the following. I’ve posted, word for word, a few of the most aggressive app permission you’ve accepted.
- Allows the app to change the state of network connectivity
- Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to send SMS messages. This may result in unexpected charges. Malicious apps may cost you money by sending messages without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.
- Allows the app to read you phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.
- Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.
- Allows the app to read personal profile information stored on your device, such as your name and contact information. This means the app can identify you and may send your profile information to others.
- Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.
- Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed.
The fact that social media and mobile apps are so insidious is nothing new, we all know (or should know) that no app is truly free. “Free” online apps are paid for by the provision of personal data such as name, location, browsing history, etc. In turn, mobile developers and social networks charge advertisers to serve up highly targeted ads to specific groups of people.
In a way, it pays to offer some personal information for a better experience with online ads, which we all hate so much. However, Facebook Messenger’s attempt to collect so much information and take control of our devices is unprecedented and, quite frankly, frightening. The fact that over a 1,000,000,000 people have accepted these terms is an alarming insight into the future of mobile apps and personal security.
If this many people have not read the Messenger Terms of Service (or have read it and don’t care), how emboldened will mobile developers be in the future? I understand the nature of “free” mobile apps. I’m prepared to give up some personal data for the right to access a game, content, or social network for free and to have an improved advertising experience while enjoying that free service. However, Facebook has pushed this too far. It’s time we stood up and said “no!”
Take the first step by deleting this app. Next, review the Terms of Service agreements you’ve previously accepted without reading, and be sure you’re comfortable with the cost of free. The only way to curb this harmful trend is to take a stand. Read every online and mobile Terms of Service agreement before accepting and, where it goes too far, say no.
Will you say no?