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:
- Bluetooth sharing
- 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.
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.