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Messenger app users worry how Facebook uses a device's phone, camera

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 13, 2014
Better ways needed to explain to users the permissions for hundreds of thousands of apps.

Here's how Facebook says its Messenger app uses various device functions, with the bold portion the actual permission that Android requests followed by how Messenger describes its use of each function:

Take pictures and videos: 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

Receive text messages (SMS): If you add a phone number to your Messenger account, this allows you to confirm your phone number by finding the confirmation code that we send via text message

Read your contacts: This permission allows you to add your phone contacts as Messenger contacts if you choose to do so. You can always stop syncing your phone contacts by going to your Messenger settings

Facebook's latest descriptions are vastly different from how Messenger uses the camera and phone than how the Android permissions were described for Messenger in December. At the time, the permissions were reported by the Huffington Post as "allowing the app to call phone numbers without your invention" and allowing the app "to take pictures and videos with the any time without your confirmation."

Facebook told Computerworld that the Android OS controls how the permissions are worded and its language won't necessarily reflect the way each app uses them.

Android users at any time can call up an app in the Play Store and scroll down to "permissions" to click on "view details" to learn more. For this information on the Messenger app, the Android permissions listed don't even mention the phone or camera and now only refer to "find accounts on the device," "read your own contact card," "read your contacts" and find your approximate and precise location.

Computerworld on Monday loaded the Messenger app onto a review unit of the new Samsung Galaxy S Sport that was supplied by Sprint and received a number of permissions that seemed at times to revert to the more draconian privacy warnings of December. For the camera, the permission (in a pop-up) said, "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." (see screenshot on previous page) For the phone, it simply said, "Uses one or more of phone, call log. Charges may apply."

For its part, Google said it does not allow developers, including Facebook or others, to adjust such permissions wording because permissions are designed only to address what an app will have access to. Exactly how an app uses the camera or phone is up to each developer and they are allowed to include links to their privacy policies on their app's Play Store listing page. It's there that developers can list how they plan to use the information, according to Google. Google also lays out the process that developers should follow in its Android Developers pages.


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