Facebook denial makes more clear its power to spy on Android texts, phone calls

'Times' story mistakes 'could spy' for 'is spying;' Facebook splits hairs on what 'spying' means

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In a survey that ran with the Times story, 70 percent of Android users said they were not aware of the extent of the rights apps acquire to their text messages.

Weak excuses for demanding the right to snoop

It is entirely believable that the Times story misinterpreted the subtle difference between Facebook giving itself permission to read and write text messages and its current statement that it does not actually read the messages.

Saying Facebook can covertly monitor the content and targets of user text messages but chooses not to do so is not only a weak explanation, it's one that exacerbates the sense of end users that Facebook has abused its potential to invade their privacy in the past and will continue to do so whenever possible in the future.

Refusing to allow users to delete data, appearing to allow the deletion but secretly retaining the private data, connecting pictures and other content to the accounts of particular users without their permission are just a few of the clever, intrusive ways Facebook has abused the trust and data of users in the past.

It has done nothing to reassure anyone that a company whose business model is built on exploiting the private data of users has now become conscientious about privacy.

Having a vendor like invasion-of-privacy trendsetter Facebook demand the right to read and write text messages one or two version releases before it's ready to do anything with that permission does nothing to make anyone more confident in Facebook's restraint.

Google's admission last week that it had bypassed privacy functions in Safari and other browsers just reinforces the perception that online services whose revenue comes mainly from advertising will covertly monitor the activity of customers whenever they think they can get away with it.

Without more information from the Times about what information its reporters got from Facebook, what information it had to reinforce or contradict that information and how it reached its conclusions, there's no certain way to say whether or how badly the Times mangled the truth about how Android apps use their SMS access.

It does nothing to make the Times story less disturbing, however, that most of Facebook's objections could be dealt with simply by changing a few references from reading "is spying" to "could be spying" on the text messages of customers.

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