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Facebook Messenger app isn't evil & it's not about to spy on you - but it is getting ads

Ashleigh Allsopp | March 1, 2016
The truth behind reports that claim Facebook Messenger can spy on you, call your friends and take control of your mobile device. Plus: Messenger is to get ads, but how does this affect your privacy?

If you're a Facebook user, you'll have noticed that the company forces users to download the Facebook Messenger app if they want to send and receive messages. This wasn't always the case, however, and when the change was first made thousands of users flocked to the iOS App Store and Google Play Store to complain about the app. It wasn't just the fact it had been separated from the main Facebook application - users were concerned about their privacy and had been led to believe that the Messenger app lets Facebook spy on you.

Now they have even more reason to fear their privacy, since Facebook is rumoured to be bringing ads to Messenger. The company hasn't confirmed the rumour, but TechCrunch has unearthed a document suggesting that Facebook will launch ads within Messenger in Q2 2016.

Can Facebook Messenger spy on you?

Despite what you've heard, Facebook's Messenger app isn't going to call or message your friends or use your device's camera to see what you're up to. For one thing, Facebook would get into HUGE trouble if it did, and it wouldn't be tricky to catch Facebook in the act, particularly after all of this bad publicity highlighting such privacy issues. 

The app does not give Facebook "direct control over your mobile device," either, despite what The Huffington Post reported at the time.

In fact the Messenger app's permissions aren't much different from the main Facebook app that you've been using for years, and there are probably several other apps with almost identical permissions installed on your device already.

On Android, downloaders of the Messenger app have to agree to give Facebook permission to access the device's camera, microphone, contacts, location, calendar, WiFi information and more, which does seem rather daunting.

However, those permissions are the same or very similar to most other messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram.

Plus, on Android, Google requires permissions to be worded in a particular way no matter what they're actually used for, so when you read that the app wants you to give it permission to "take pictures and video" or "directly call phone numbers" it doesn't mean that the app is going to do either of those things without your knowledge.

NOTE: Facebook Messenger has always been able to - in common with the majority of other websites, apps and online services - collect and use your data for advertising purposes. Some would consider this to be 'spying' on you, but not in the way that many reports are suggesting. (Below we'll explain what Facebook's permissions really mean.) 

With regards to the rumours about ads coming to Messenger, Facebook told TechCrunch: "We don't comment on rumor or speculation. That said, our aim with Messenger is to create a high quality, engaging experience for 800 million people around the world, and that includes ensuring people do not experience unwanted messages of any type."


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