Facebook privacy is a myth

A little while back, I wrote about my concerns with the Facebook Messenger app, and the Permissions it needed demanded to function. It was these Permissions that saw me uninstall Messenger and ultimately close down my Facebook profile.

I’ve since activated a very stripped down Facebook profile, where I share a lot less than before and have it locked down to a very small number of family and friends – a very different experience from my “pretty much share everything” use on the deleted account.

Since I commute a lot, I installed the Facebook for Android app (but not Messenger). Usually, I have my apps to manually update, but because I had been testing the beta version of the new Android app before switching back to the “official” one, I’d neglected to change my app update settings.

This let Facebook download the latest update yesterday. And, originally, I was impressed – the new UI was slick and the experience far superior. So impressed, I shared a couple of screen grabs of the new interface.

Facebook for Android profile Facebook for Android newsfeed

As you can see, it’s a clean, easy-to-navigate experience. Finally, Android users had the app they deserved, right? Not quite.

The Devil Gives Better Choices than Facebook

You’ve probably heard the term “making a pact with the Devil”. Essentially, it allows you to have anything you want, in exchange for your soul being the property of the Devil when you die.

Facebook’s new Permissions kinda reminded me of this, given that they’re forcing you to give up any semblance of privacy you may have thought you still had left.

When I shared the pictures on Google+, Al Spaulding made me immediately regret the fact I was on auto-update. From his comment on the post:

It looks great. However I refuse to download it and am still using the older version from 2 mth ago. Why? Because the new one says pretty clearly that they can access your phone for anything. They can read your texts – take them off your phone and upload them to their server, place phone calls on your behalf, and even disclose your location without you wanting them to.

While I’m used to Facebook’s Draconian privacy settings, the part about accessing my SMS and MMS messages caught my attention. I don’t recall this being as explicit before (although it may have been), so I uninstalled the app and set about re-installing to check the Permissions out fully.

The results were a mix of scary and extreme.

Facebook SMS

Facebook contactsFacebook calendar Facebook call numbers

The Calendar I’d seen on previous Permissions, and the Calls (while annoying) I’m pretty sure had been there too. But check out the exact wording of the SMS/MMS Permission, and that of the Contacts one.

Doesn’t that alarm you as a user? Read that wording again, especially this statement:

This allows the app to read all SMS messages, regardless of content or confidentiality.

Wow. Just… wow. Not even my wife gets access to my SMS messages (and no, Jacki, I have nothing to hide!). What honest and useful reason can Facebook have to get access to my texts? Seemingly they’re running with the “It will help us target better” message.

I call bullshit.

Target Publicly and Respect Privacy

I’m a marketer. I get that data helps us target campaigns better, and (in an ideal world) meet the needs of our customers and audience by that very targeting. Yet as I say time and time again, this has to be opt-in, and publicly available data.

The moment you track data beyond public access, you’re moving into both immoral and – you’d like to believe – questionably legal areas.

Facebook requiring access to my SMS messages, as well as the friends I speak with privately on the phone, sets off major alarm bells, and this from someone that benefits from the amount of data publicly available.

I’m not naive enough to think anything we put on the web is private. And, since the NSA-Snowden affair, I’m even less naive to think that we don’t face the prospect of being snooped on by our respective security forces.

But it could be argued it’s in the interests of public safety for this level of monitoring (though some of the arguments are very tenuous). Facebook doesn’t protect us, nor does it seem to have our interests at heart. All it wants are numbers, pure and simple, and the data that comes with these numbers to sell to the highest bidder.

These Permissions for their Android app merely confirm that, and is why my use of Facebook will now be restricted to the web version.

Your privacy, and how you place it in the Facebook ecosystem, is something Facebook is counting on you to ignore. The choice is yours.