August 11, 2014, 2:07 PM — Facebook is making waves again by asking users to install a separate Messenger app (inconvenient!)--and revelations about the app's permissions (invasive!). Maybe there are just too many downsides to this app than benefits?
When you first try to install Facebook Messenger, it does seem to require a ton of permissions, at least on Android, access to your: contacts or calendar, location, SMS, phone, photos/media/files, camera/microphone, Wi-Fi connection information, device ID and call information...which Facebook explains is just needed to do normal Facebook things like share photos or directly call a Messenger contact. But Facebook's help page on the matter is only a partial explanation ("examples of what we use this permission for"). Sam Fiorella caused an uproar when he posted the Terms of Service details for the Messenger Android app on the Huffington Post last year. Especially alarming were all the "without your confirmation" details on each permission. "Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention" and "record audio at any time without your confirmation." Pretty creepy stuff.
Facebook, via the Wall Street Journal, however, tries to assuage privacy fears by saying this is standard (and outdated) ToS language Android requires (iOS users get more permissions control). I couldn't, after nearly an hour of searching or reading, find the language Fiorella mentioned in his post, but I also could not find a clear understanding of the limits of these permissions from Facebook's privacy pages.
Maybe these are obvious permissions needed for the app to function. Maybe Android just needs to allow finer app permissions control for developers and users. Whatever the case, Facebook has a privacy communication problem.
It's not just privacy that's leading me to hit the uninstall button, though. Facebook Messenger, as a separate app, just seems superfluous to me. Granted, I don't get that many Facebook messages, and when I do, they're mostly annoying ones from people on Facebook I hardly know. The friends I am really close with already have my mobile number and can just text me.
Using Facebook Messenger, for me, is like giving not-so-important messages priority notification alerts, as much as--or even more than--text messages from contacts in your phone book. (Messenger notifcations flash a different color on my phone and have their own alert sound, plus a floating-above-everything circular photo of the Facebook contact.)
Facebook Messenger texts aren't more important to me than my SMS and MMS ones, but by using Messenger, it gives Facebook messages priority over my attention. You can turn off Facebook Messenger notifications, but only for short periods of time.
Also, you have to fiddle with the Messenger settings to turn off battery-draining features like vibration.
In other words, in addition to the possible privacy ramifications, Facebook Messenger just doesn't offer enough value proposition. Your mileage might vary, of course, if you use Messenger a lot. In which case, carry on. I can be reached via text, Twitter, and email.
Read more of Melanie Pinola’s Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.