Unravelling the privacy concerns about Facebook Messenger

(Source: Schroeder 2014, Facebook Messenger for iOS Gets Groups and Forwarding, accessed: 8/9/2014, http://mashable.com/2014/03/28/facebook-messenger-ios-groups/)

The recent development of the Facebook Messenger application has been labelled an invasion of privacy among users. The app’s been given a poor rating of 1 and a half stars, users who want to participate in messenger mobile have no choice but to install it, and upon reading the terms and conditions, they can seem alarming.

• “Call phone numbers and send SMS messages
• Record audio, and take pictures and videos, at any time
• Read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls
• Read your contact data, including who you call and email and how often
• Read personal profile information stored on your device” (Dewey 2014).

Before you go into panic, these settings do differ between Androids and iPhones. Albergotti (2014) explains that the app can pose more affect to Android users because Android has a rigid policy which requires users to agree to all permissions before they can even use the app. Whereas, iPhone users can choose not to give the app permission to access some features such as the microphone and address book. According to Facebook (2014), these permissions are what the user can do e.g. the app allows you to take photos, videos, voice recordings and be able to send them within messenger. Click here to find out more.

Some reports argue that these terms and conditions are nothing new. Bogart (2014) notes that similar controls and personal data collection can be found in apps such as RunKeeper that “asks for permission to access your phone’s contacts and call logs, while WeatherBug wants permission to view your Wi-Fi network and other devices connected to it”.

Although this might be so, the surveillance of information flows on the app can be particularly concerning when Messenger conversations are generally used to disclose a message to an individual or small group in a more private way than a wall post. Mitew (2014) continues that Facebook’s control over information and rules is part of its structure. Facebook is a walled garden, a closed network of curated control and within it, there are rules on how to use the content (Mitew 2014). It’s easy to say to privacy-conscious users to leave the walled garden, but it’s not as simple as it seems. Despite the high levels of control, people still want to be in the walled garden because it entails a sense of belonging and community, which is also shared with loved ones and friends.

After much research and investigation into the Facebook Messenger app, it still makes me think twice about what I share online and on Messenger. For many, it’s come as a reminder that whilst the user is a big part and contributor of walled gardens, we do not have the ability and control, which the networks do.

Albergotti, R 2014, ‘Facebook Messenger Privacy Fears? Here’s What to Know’, Digits, 8 August, accessed: 4/9/2014, http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/08/08/facebook-messenger-privacy-fears-heres-what-you-need-to-know/

Bogart, N 2014, ‘What you need to know about concerns over Facebook’s Messenger app’, Global News, 5 August, accessed: 4/9/2014, http://globalnews.ca/news/1492783/what-you-need-to-know-about-concerns-over-facebooks-messenger-app/

Dewey, C 2014, ‘Yes the Facebook Messenger app requests creepy invasive permissions but so does every other app’, The Washington Post, 4 August, accessed: 4/9/2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/08/04/yes-the-facebook-messenger-app-requests-creepy-invasive-permissions-but-so-does-every-other-app/

Facebook 2014, ‘Why is the Messenger app requesting permission to access features on my Android phone or tablet?’, Facebook, accessed: 8/9/2014, https://www.facebook.com/help/347452185405260

Mitew, T 2014, iFeudals: big data, surveillance, permission control, lecture, DIGC202, Global Networks, University of Wollongong, delivered 2 September.


8 thoughts on “Unravelling the privacy concerns about Facebook Messenger

  1. Whilst I agree with the idea that Facebook is a walled garden and that the networks have the majority of control. In signing up to facebook each user must agree to these privacy policies. Another great point you make is that other apps request access to the same features of mobiles, and yet there is not much public outcry. Following on from this the facebook app itself asks for much of the same data. Is it because users are already aware of the privacy issues associated with facebook that there was so much outcry?

  2. Thank you for your feedback! Users might have seen in the media that Facebook is a platform that’s been questioned for its degree of privacy, but I don’t think that’s why there was a great deal of outcry over Facebook Messenger. I think people are more concerned about the app being able to potentially collect data because the nature of Facebook allows users to make personal exchanges and share information. For me, I use Facebook Messenger frequently and I think it’s a space that many people are a part of and interact with often. This could be part of the reason why fear of the app developed, and it could also be to do with the Facebook Messenger privacy issue being brought to attention in the media spotlight.

  3. I like that you have tied in a current and relevant issue that is a hot topic in society today and used it for this weeks blog task. A lot of people are concerned with the privacy issues ‘Messenger Mobile’ have incorporated with the updated app. The reason behind the panic is the percentage of members in the Facebook realm is significantly high with 1.23 billion monthly users, or about one-sixth of the world’s population. That is a very large proportion of private information that will be accessed and controlled but a corporation.

  4. There has been such a major reaction to this new advance with Facebook messenger. We hand over our data in exchange for the use of their services. Our data is analysed over and over and grows in power with each bite of information. As our friends talk to each other over media such as Facebook messenger, it gives Facebook further information on how we are interacting and where we fit within the network. It a massive amount of data than can be harvested by our new feudal lords. Its a power exchange which is not in itself an evil thing, you get information from me and I get to use your services for free. However ever these social platforms do not openly discuss how they are using our data. We never receive information about how our connections intertwine with other users on facebook, but the server sees all.

  5. Where our data is stored, who has access to it and how it can be used are some questions that can be asked when thinking about the power of the feudal system. New innovations and updates of apps, in this case the Facebook messenger app highlights how owners of the walled garden control our interactions, access and participation with content. Furthermore it expresses how with each app update, each individual is asked to provide more personal information. It may be because of a new system or a new feature within the app that has been included to appear attractive to users, to engage individuals and make our interactions with others easier. With our actions being monitored and the continuous aggregation of our metadata stored by these feudal systems, our interests and interactions are always under surveillance whether or not we have agreed to it. In essence the price for continued access to the network is our privacy.

    The issue of privacy will always be a cause of concern however in this case with Facebook, many are already knowledgeable of the private information we must provide and who can access it. We’ve come to accept the notion of giving up information in order to gain access to these platforms. There is always the risk of others interfering and accessing our private data; at the end of the day it’s our choice [we are not forced] whether we choose to engage with others with this framework.

    A question that could be asked is, the idea of privacy issues being downfall of the social media framework? Have a look: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathansalembaskin/2014/05/28/privacy-issues-could-threaten-the-future-of-commercial-social-media/

  6. Great post and great current example to use, I also like how you have included a source that breaks down exactly what the new app is all about. It is certainly an interesting reaction to Facebook messenger considering how intrusive Facebook was before the whole messenger thing, anyway! While as media students we are hear again and again that Facebook IS NOT private and shouldn’t be treat that way. While we hear it often enough, most people don’t and tend to use Facebook under the impression that its their own space (that they own). The messenger app has actually created awareness of the app as well as Facebook itself.
    Thanks for getting me thinking!

  7. Your post really reflects how intrusive social media platforms can be, and even though we agree to the terms and conditions, when an invasion of privacy happens it can definitely be very confronting! I agree with the statement above that Facebook is not meant to be private, we already know this from the advertisements displayed down the side of the column. Your post links really well with the topic and I like the atmosphere you create with your writing style 🙂

  8. I’m glad someone focussed on the messenger app for Feudalism. It’s taken up space in the public debate regarding privacy and access. I have the messenger app on my phone and have not once considered the vulnerability your device is in once it is installed. That being said, these debates on privacy always falls back on the user and where and how they store their content. We discussed in class how the leak of celebrity pictures could have been avoided if users hadn’t stored their content in the cloud which was where their privacy was infiltrated. A stronger awareness and education on such devices I think is what needs to be implemented to better understand how to conduct our online activity.

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