Apple

Facebook Messenger gives users more control of privacy options on iOS

The Android and iOS versions of Facebook Messenger offer different privacy options. Here's a look at what's different.

Facebook Messenger for iOS

Earlier this week, my colleague Jack Wallen examined the privacy implications of the Facebook Messenger app on Android. When launched for the first time, that app asks users for access to a huge amount of information on their phone, including:

  • Camera to take pictures and video
  • Microphone to record audio
  • Location data
  • Contacts and address book

...and much more. This has led many, particularly those less tech savvy, to be extremely concerned about the grocery list of permissions that it asks for right away. As Jack notes, the permissions list isn't particularly unusual for a messaging app, but it can be an imposing request upon launching the app to give it full access to your camera roll and microphone. Some skeptics even say Facebook could use it to record everything the app hears, which is technically accurate but extremely misleading.

Unlike the Android app, Facebook Messenger for iOS doesn't ask for permission to use all those items right at the front because of the way Apple handles user privacy.

Several years ago, Apple got into some hot water because of several apps that accessed user data like contacts in the address book without the user being aware of it. In response, Apple has significantly enhanced user privacy settings.

For one thing, apps on iOS only ask for access to certain user data when the app specifically needs it. For example, while the Facebook Messenger app asks for access to the user location when you first go to send a message -- the app allows users to share their general location with friends when sending a message -- access to the camera and iOS Camera Roll is only requested if a user attempts to actually send photos.

Access to the iOS microphone is only requested if the user attempts to send an audio message or begin a voice chat session. Access to the user's contact information is only requested if they try to sync their address book with Facebook.

As an added bonus, iOS users can retroactively authorize or de-authorize the various privacy settings later. In the Settings app under Privacy, users can manually de-authorize the access of individual apps to various settings, including:

  • Location
  • Contacts
  • Calendars
  • Reminders
  • Photos
  • Bluetooth sharing
  • Microphone
  • Motion activity

Because of Apple's increased focus on user privacy options, the iOS version of Facebook Messenger appears to be much more lenient in its need to access user data -- however, it actually behaves very similarly to the Android version, it's just that that app requests all its user permissions at once, making it seem much more invasive than it really is.

It doesn't help that Facebook is thought of as a privacy-busting company that looks to sell its users data to advertisers, but the uproar over Facebook's Messenger app is definitely misguided, whether on Android or iPhone.

Are you concerned about Facebook Messenger? Is it likely to make you use the app less? Let us know in the comments below.

About

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

11 comments
Mike Benstead
Mike Benstead

Once a week I get asked where I was born, where I went to Uni, etc. It's none of Facebook's business. I'd love to turn those questions off but every week they ask again and again and again...

Jerry Hanson
Jerry Hanson

and I would deny them access every damn time!!

Veronica Thomas
Veronica Thomas

What concerns me the most is if I say NO, it asks every damn time. Why don't it ask me for YES every single time? Tricky little bastards.

Eric Hayton
Eric Hayton

None, because I know why they're there and why they are necessary, including corporate revenue (I laugh at dummies who think anything is free)

Jeff Gebhart
Jeff Gebhart

"It doesn't help that Facebook is thought of as a privacy-busting company that looks to sell its users data to advertisers..." This.

Andrey V. Yuryatin
Andrey V. Yuryatin

You can install jailbreak tweak FBNoNeedMessenger and chat inside original Facebook app :)

frylock
frylock

Advantage: Apple

I generally prefer Android over iOS, but permissions handling is one area where Android is clearly behind. As for the FB Messenger app, never tried it. Not because of privacy concerns, simply not interested.

Thomasrdean
Thomasrdean

I tried it, then deleted it. I want to check my messages at my convenience, not theirs. The Facebook app allows me to turn notifications off. The old version of messenger would let you turn off notifications, but would turn them back on automatically after 8 hours (I deleted that version then as well). The new version of iOS doesn't allow that, so now every time I went to the new messenger, I got a nag dialog about notifications being off. I know, I turned them off!!! So I deleted the messenger app. Interestingly, that allowed me to check messages inside the main app again.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

@Thomasrdean You can get notifications about messages but I bet if you try to respond, it'll tell you that Messenger is required.

Thomasrdean
Thomasrdean

No works fine, can reply to messages as well. I saw another article that also noted that installing and deleting messenger would restore message functionality to the main app. Somehow it fools something. I'm not installing the upgrade to the main app just in case they try remove the functionality altogether.

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