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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.

The concerns raised over Facebook Messenger privacy caused some analysts to wonder how exactly Messenger and other apps, such as Skype, Line and Snapchat, will use a person's phone or camera without their knowledge.

"I'm in a group that likes to protect my privacy, so I am very wary of clicking yes on permissions when I don't understand why they need permission," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "With the camera, there may be a legitimate reason for the app to use the camera to scan a bar code or to scan a Passport as United Airlines does for international check-ins, but I'm still leery about doing so."

Gold agreed with Facebook that Android's general purpose permission wording is too vague about what the permission is for or what will be done. "Having access to the microphone for VoIP and chat sessions is fine, but having it monitor you surreptitiously is not," Gold added. He urged Google to have a more granular permission policy, but noted that Google and Android are making an attempt to define permissions when a user tries to download an app. With iOS, the permissions are often much more vague and general, he noted.

Ultimately, the Facebook Messenger privacy flap is another warning to app users to beware, but also to the mobile industry and developers to find ways to explain to users the permissions for many hundreds of thousands of apps.

"The app has to build a trusted partner relationship with the user," Gold said. "If you inherently trust the app maker, in this case Facebook, and are interested in using the app, then you'll likely click yes. But should you trust the app? If you don't click yes to permissions, then the app won't load. That's the dilemma users face, and it's all or nothing. Having granular permissions against what an app is actually doing is the next step in OS development."


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