I originally posted this article to my Life, Liberty, and Technology blog, but I thought the information was important enough to repost here as well.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware of all the dire warnings about Facebook’s “new” Messenger app floating around the Internet. At first I wasn’t going to write anything about it, but it seems that the story continues to get bigger. So I feel it necessary to discuss the warnings and how it all got started.
An article written by Nick Russo for a Houston radio station claimed that the Facebook Messenger app would have permissions to do all sorts of privacy-invading things if you installed it. For some reason, the article went viral. Well, it probably went viral for the same reason people send chain letters about virus hoaxes. It had just enough sensationalism mixed in with an authoritative tone to seem credible. The name of Nick’s radio station is “The Bull,” and perhaps that should have been an indication to people reading it that his article was for the most part, BS.
I’m not sure why this radio personality felt it necessary to pretend to be a technology expert. The very first time I read the article I knew there was something just not right. I tried to research his claims for some friends who were asking and for the life of me I couldn’t find anything about this guy stating that he had any professional experience besides working in radio. There’s nothing wrong with working in radio, but if you’re going to use your platform to disseminate information, please be sure you know what you’re talking about! As far as I’ve seen, Nick has not yet written an apology for his fear-mongering article, but rather has shifted into portraying himself as some sort of privacy advocate. Once again, I’m all for privacy advocates, but if you’re going to advocate – know of what you speak beyond just a cursory scratching of the surface.
Nick Russo made a lot of outlandish claims regarding what the Facebook Messenger app could do. The first problem with his claims were that he didn’t make a distinction between smartphones. I knew right away when reading his article was that there was no way Apple would allow an app like that to get into their App Store. Certainly it might be possible with an Android-based phone, however unlikely it would be, but Apple puts every single app submitted to their store through an approval process. Every. Single. App. Yeah, there’s no chance that Apple would allow Facebook Messenger, or any other app, to do the following as claimed by Nick Russo:
- change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service … for its own reasons without telling you.
- send text messages to your contacts on your behalf … when they want
- see through your lens on your phone whenever they want .. listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to
- read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls … Facebook will know all of this
- read e-mails you’ve sent and take information from them to use for their own gain.
- read personal profile information stored on your device … addresses, personal info, pictures or anything else
- Facebook will now have a tally of all the apps you use, how often you use them and what information you keep or exchange on those apps.
It’s not like Apple iPhones are some off-the-wall brand that can be safely overlooked when discussing smartphones. They are just a *little* popular, to put it lightly. So to write an article like this with such extreme claims and not know about Apple’s approval process is simply irresponsible. But even if we were to ignore iPhones for the moment, does anyone really think that Facebook would want to do most of what is claimed above to their users? Perhaps Mr. Russo should have put in a call to someone at Facebook to ask a few questions first? Or at least do a tiny little bit of research on this thing called the Internet before publishing an article like this? I bet even the resident PC guy at “The Bull” probably could have warned Nick that his claims were pretty far out and to be careful before publishing his article. But alas, Mr. Russo took a little sliver of knowledge and believed he knew more than he did – running off like “The Bull” in a china shop and starting a viral tidal wave in the process.
To be fair, in theory – extreme theory, what Nick Russo claims above could possibly be accomplished by highly malicious apps running on some smartphone platforms. But Facebook Messenger isn’t a malicious app. And Nick must have found that out because in his next article he states, “I’ve now learned that both the New Facebook Messenger App and the original Facebook app have many of the SAME permissions.” Yes, I’m sure he did learn a few things once his article went viral! But perhaps those things should have been learned BEFORE publishing! As it turns out, the Facebook Messenger app (which isn’t new, but has been out for years), does virtually nothing different than any other similar app, including the normal Facebook app that billions of people already use. Oops!
Apparently once he found that out, Nick choose to portray himself as a privacy advocate, championing the idea that he made people more aware of the privacy choices on their phones. Fair enough, but let’s call a spade a spade. If he really cared about people’s privacy choices, he would have done some research and consulted with technology experts so that he could have written a balanced article. Any good that he has done has been completely obscured by the hysteria he created. Advocacy by accident at best. Fear-mongering at worst.
Bottom line, there are many articles that debunk Nick’s claims. Here is another article discussing some of Nick’s claims as “myths”. Facebook even posted an article discussing the privacy concerns. So the moral of the story is that we can’t believe everything we read – especially when it comes to technology topics. While we may not like the fact that Facebook is making everyone use a separate app for Messenger, spreading misinformation isn’t helping anybody.