Let's face it, social media networks are annoying … but we can't live without them.
Especially Facebook. The controversy around the social media giant's re-launch of Facebook Messenger has once again stirred up a nest of privacy concerns.
Like all social networks, Facebook has benefits and warts. The benefit is that it is sublimely designed, it works very well, its got a gigantic user base (including most of your friends) and its got a world-class team constantly refining and tweaking it.
The downside is that Facebook is an immensely commercial operation and it doesn't seem to care too much about your privacy. This is not Craigslist. Let's face it: Facebook is chronicling every subtle activity in your life in a gigantic database so it can cash in on your life.
Why Do We Use It?
That's it, really. That's the tradeoff: You get a great way to connect with people and share information, in exchange for handing over your privacy and accepting floods of marketing. And Facebook keeps all the money.
The most recent moves do seem to be heading in a more extreme direction — and this may be the flashpoint for larger amounts antipathy toward Facebook. Let's take a look at how much anger is warranted and what you should do.
The new Facebook Messenger strategy has some people angry on several levels. First, Facebook has been trying to guide users into a new, separate app that includes photo-sharing, messaging and video conferencing features. You have to download this app on iOS and Android, rather than being able to access the features via the regular Facebook app.
Old School Move
This is a classic tech business move: Use the carrot of increased functionality to draw the users deeper into your software walled garden — and get people to download more software. It's annoyed lots of people, but this is not revolutionary in the world of software annoyances. It's kind of normal. Microsoft did this for many, many years.
The fact is, you will still be able to use some of Facebook's messaging features in other places, for example, on Facebook when you are accessing it from a desktop or a laptop.
But something that's got people even more angry are the privacy settings from the Messenger Android app, which asks you for permission to do just about anything but hide in your bedroom closet.
Concerns about the Android terms of service first went viral from a Huffington Post story by marketing expert Sam Fiorella, titled in incendiary HuffPo style, "The Insidiousness of Facebook Messenger's Android Mobile App Permissions (Updated)."
Fiorella, listed as a partner of a firm called Sensei Marketing, complained in his article of all the permissions a user must agree to when downloading the app. These include allowing the app to read your log data, control your mobile data connection, see your contacts, send SMS messages, detect your location, look at your phone history, access your camera and microphone, etc.
Not So Fast
There are several problems with this critique. The first is that these are generic permissions for almost all Android apps — and most apps, understandably, need much of this functionality. If sharing this information is insidious, then most apps are insidious. Fiorella points this out, but buries it in his column, because it does not jive with the headline, of course (less money for AOL).
The revelation that apps take personal data from your phone is not exactly a smoking gun. What social app do you know that doesn't need to access the data in your contact list? And if you are going to call somebody via a data connection, it most certainly will need to use your data connection.
But it makes good copy. Mashable had a more reasonable take, pointing out that issue might be a bit overblown.
Facebook itself responded to the criticism, explaining what it uses the data for. It has a pretty good response which you can read here.
The hysteria and PR war about Facebook's Messenger Android app might be an overreaction, but I think it's getting more attention because of Facebook's questionable history of handling privacy. Remember Beacon? That was a failed Facebook project that collected data from other websites you might be visiting and using the data to target ads on Facebook. The short-lived project was launched and shutdown in 2009 after it was targeted by a class-action lawsuit. Zuckerberg said it was a "mistake."
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