Why Facebook Messenger Wants Access To Your Phone's Microphone

Friday, November 29, 2013 - 01:00 PM

There's an Infowars story that's beginning to circulate widely about a seemingly very Orwellian move by Facebook. 

Supposedly, the company now wants to listen in on our phone calls. This one's a good example of paranoia that misses the point.

Facebook's asking users who download its Messenger app to allow the app access to their phone's microphone at any time. Why would Facebook want to do something that sounds so creepy? Because Facebook's Messenger app is designed to let you make phone calls to your Facebook friends. Which it needs your microphone for.

That's why the other laundry list of permissions Facebook Messenger asks for actually aren't that egregious either. Here's Infowars

The TOS also authorizes Facebook to take videos and pictures using the phone’s camera at any time without permission, as well as directly calling numbers, again without permission, that could incur charges.

But wait, there’s more! Facebook can also “read your phone’s call log” and “read data about contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.”

Again, this all sounds very creepy, until you consider that the app wants to be able to replace your smartphone's actual functionality as a phone. So accessing your photos and videos lets the app text photos and videos to your friends. Similarly, access to your call logs and address books make sense when you consider that this is a phone app. 

There's certainly reasonable arguments for why you might not want to trust Facebook with your data. And it's entirely possible someone will turn up something genuinely discomfiting up in regards to this app. But this story isn't that.



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Comments [14]

Sue from USA

Why would Facebook, or anyone else, be interested in my conversations about menopause?? When I first began using the internet, 15 or so years ago, I noticed that when I went to a shopping website, then days later opened my Yahoo mail, there were ads for that store and/or similar products from other stores. So this "tracking" or whole lack/invasion of privacy has been going on long before Facebook came to be. I don't understand why this all comes as a huge surprise to people now.

Jul. 08 2014 02:34 PM

Every time I started writing anything on my fb page or to comment on a friend's post, I heard my microphone click on after this latest update. Not ok. Deleted app from my phone. End of problem. I haven't heard it click on other than when I access it directly now.

Jul. 07 2014 01:41 PM
Scott M from St Louis, Earth

<i>Liberty will not be crushed by some socialist tyrant</i>

Because socialist tyrants never crush liberty. Ever.

Jun. 26 2014 04:51 PM
m Garratt

Then why doesn't it ask permission every time the app wants to do these things?

Jun. 03 2014 10:21 AM
Mark from Sydney

That's nothing unusual for facebook, when I first got onto facebook through my computer I conveniently had the same password as my email account, and without ever gaining permission from me people were being suggested to me that were in my email contacts as 'people you may know' that I hadn't spoken to or emailed for years, yet somehow facebook knew these people from my past.

May. 29 2014 03:18 AM
Bill Weir from earth

Wow..l. This is the very first Inet topic of discussion with comments that didn't make me want to go stab myself in the face. DanJ and Keithotis Edwards both make great points. Sure things can be framed as innocent enough until you realize legalese really IS it's own language. For example when a cop asks you if you understand something, he isn't asking you if you "get" it... he's asking you if you stand under his directives... The language in the contract is ripe for abuse. I'm not a lawyer but I have recently been through having attorneys draw up some contracts for me and it's all fresh in my mind... Can we have an actual attorney chime in here? That would be beyond great!

May. 27 2014 08:46 PM

The Facebook app is requesting this permission, not the Facebook Messenger app. I could understand the messenger app wanting it, but not the primary app. I found this article after I noticed a strange "suggested page". It was for a douche bag that was on a TV show that was playing at a friend's house last night. I've never given any indication that I would ever watch this show from any of my posts or other likes on Facebook. The only thing I could think of, was that Facebook picked up the audio from my phone. That's what got me looking at the app's permissions in the first place. While I know that Facebook is the customer here, and if you truly want to have privacy, you shouldn't have a social account of any kind, I still feel violated by the idea that the Facebook app could be listening in.

Apr. 28 2014 09:33 PM

And how large a bond has Facebook put into escrow to guarantee that this will never be abused?

Dec. 22 2013 02:21 PM

This is an example of how the public is alarmed by the US government spying on people, but the same citizens will happily forfeit their privacy and divulge personal information to corporations such as FB, Google, credit-card companies and pharmacy chains. Corporations intrude into your personal life and know more details about you than the inept government ever will. The only difference is that the public eagerly surrenders whatever corporations demand, because it's somehow cool, and people all want to conform and be "friended."

Conformity has become a more essential human need than privacy ever was. Friedrich Hayek was utterly naïve, as are his libertarian worshippers. Liberty will not be crushed by some socialist tyrant; it will be squandered away by "sharing" . . . and quietly sold in bulk.

Dec. 09 2013 01:39 AM
Joshua Jericho

Anyone who takes privacy seriously isn't using Facebook at all.

Dec. 03 2013 02:29 AM
DanJ from Brooklyn

There are two things going on in this article that are not being written about.
The first is that the phone asks your permission to make a call or take pictures, in that you have to physically turn it on and perform those activities for them to happen.
While I understand that the author is claiming that Facebook is merely changing it's status within the phone so that you don't have to give it permission every time you want to use the Facebook app for the activity, that is not how it's written (is there legalese somewhere in all this?). Facebook can specifically turn on the microphone or camera at any time without your permission, whatever they want to do with it.
The second is the relationship between Facebook and the user. The user is not Facebook's customer, the company that buys the user's data from Facebook is. Facebook acting as a phone is part of it's collection of data, the way gmail scans your emails for keywords, whatever FB is actually collecting and selling.

Dec. 02 2013 12:22 PM

But... my smartphone already functions as a phone...?

Nov. 29 2013 02:31 PM

This is so much like the Snowden bru-haha. What data is possibly being collected is thrown into a viral blender of 'what could be done' with said data. While we are in a time when it is worthy of discussing the collection of data, why does the discussion start with this clap-trap?

Nov. 29 2013 02:17 PM

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Nov. 29 2013 02:04 PM

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