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 [47]


Get a land line. Dont be so lame and always using a media device to rely on telling you just how important you are.

Technology has a place and its not so you can share pictures of your stupid cat eating cat food. Do your homework, do your research, make an educated decision.

Its stupid people like you who voted for the lame president we have in office who is trying to turn America into a socialist country.

Sep. 06 2014 10:54 AM
Tracy from CT

I'm not sure if facebook is the first to make us sign over our privacy in order to utilize their sites...but they are far from the only ones....I had to reinstall all my apps today and noticed...almost ALL of them now want access to our cams and mic's ....After reading all these comments I understand why SOME would need that access...but I can think of no reason that...EBAY or FRIDAYS would need access to them...Those are just 2 of the apps I DID NOT reinstall because of this...I decided instead to do some research and see if I can make any sense out of all of this. I don't remember reading that when I originally installed those apps...so i'm not sure if I just noticed it now because of all the Facebook talk...Does anyone know how long we have been signing away our rights to privacy in exchange for the "privilege" of using these sites? Has this always been the case..and I just never noticed...or is everyone jumping on the Facebook band wagon now...just because...they CAN. Do we have any recourse besides not being able to use the apps on our phones...How is this even legal? What happened to our right to privacy...I can understand them asking permission to use our cameras and microphones if necessary for the apps use...but permission to use them whenever THEY want to ..WITHOUT us even knowing it...is a high price to pay for internet use. Asking PERMISSION is one thing....FORCING us to give permission is cyber blackmail. Big Brother has always been watching us....only NOW...he doesn't care...if we know it.

Aug. 22 2014 01:21 AM
jack meoff from upurbuttaround the corner

Or how about when facebook posts that video of your wife you made last night "by accident" hahaha

Aug. 18 2014 12:56 PM
Sophia from USA

Pemsys is a great permission manager app for Android. Give it a try!


Aug. 15 2014 02:45 PM

Well if FB wants to hear about my weekend or where me and my friends want to meet for lunch then whatever. I'm pretty sure they will be snoring loudly by the end of my messages. In other words people if you're not a criminal planning your next terroristic act or plotting g to kill someone then what the hell do you care IF any of this is even true???? Y'all think you are way too important if you think they give a rats ass about your stupid messages about plans for the weekend. If your that damn paranoid, go back and actually read all the terms and conditions you actually agreed to when you created your FB account!!!

Aug. 12 2014 03:06 PM

Bullshit. Re-read the terms and it's clear that Facebook is implementing a catch-all to minimize exposure to liability for particular as-yet unidentified risks. It has nothing to do with app functionality. Convenient to couch these terms within the context of a new development feature, but they must be made much more legally specific for the thesis of this article to hold any weight whatsoever.

Notice how at the end of each sentence in the example terms below, we are left with the caveat "without your confirmation, without your knowledge, etc." If these changes were really not as egregious as you claim them to be, they would each read something more specific, i.e. "when specifically using the Messsenger app as a phone, etc."

Ex. 1) "Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation."

Ex. 2) "Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation."

Ex. 3) "Allows the app to read you phone's call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge."

Aug. 10 2014 10:02 AM
kim f

maybe its time for someone to create a new social network

Aug. 08 2014 11:46 AM
Rich from Sc

You people are a bunch of morons. Just hit skip and the app wont sinc it will work like the old one. Text only. If you run around not reading and not looking for options. Than you are one to blame for any misuse. Not the app. All apps have settings. Change settings to suit you. Take control of what you are doing instead of just follwing along. Dont be cattle

Aug. 08 2014 11:40 AM

The "Record" permission you're giving is for when you want to record your voice and send it to someone on facebook (it's a function on there). But obviously, there still lies the risk of all these powers being misused. Hope there's another way to talk on inbox without the stupid app.

Aug. 07 2014 11:02 PM
Dustin from socal

Screw that delete this bs app keep that sh..it up I'm gonna delete Facebook. Invasion of privacy sounds like a lawsuit to me.cali

Aug. 07 2014 10:04 PM
Lee from Toronto

Ugh. Has anyone ever read permissions for any app? These are the same GENERIC permissions that every app asks of. For every. single. app. This does NOT mean they are spying on you. In fact, unless your phone is rooted/jailbroken/hacked, apps cannot access anything outside itself, hence why jailbreaking/rooting is frowned upon by the device manufacturers.

When people develop apps, they must choose the most applicable permission settings. This is a list of a dozen or so different permissions. Because there are so few, they must choose the most applicable. THE LIST OF PERMISSIONS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT FACEBOOK WROTE, BUT THAT OF THE APPSTORE/GOOGLE PLAY/BLACKBERRY APPSTORE/ETC.

People make such big deals of things they have no idea about. As a developer, this is as ignorant as a parent who doesn't believe in vaccination. Stop being paranoid. You're not being spied on. You arent that interesting.

Aug. 07 2014 07:07 PM

why would i need an app that acts as a phone, when i have a phone in my hand? instead of making the app better than my phone, make my phone better than the app. this makes no sense

Aug. 07 2014 05:22 PM

Of course you come up with an explanation on why these permissions are needed. But that doesn't mean that fb will never use these features for other reasons. and by agreeing to the terms of service we would allowe just that.

Aug. 07 2014 04:05 PM
KS from Texas

so, now I'm confused reading all these comments: is it the facebook app that wants access to my stuff or the messenger app? I don't use the messenger app on my phone at all and just use facebook app sometimes. Is it true that, in the future, the messenger app will be required? If so, I guess I won't be accessing facebook from my phone.


Aug. 07 2014 03:22 PM
Confused from Uuummm

I understand the need to access certain features in order to carry out the functions being used. But can someone, no FACEBOOK, please explain the need to RECORD Audio?

Aug. 07 2014 11:54 AM

"Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation"

access to the microphone is OBVIOUSLY NOT for making phone calls

Aug. 07 2014 11:29 AM
George from Houston

Facebook just gave rights to "malicious apps" written by,hmmm, government agencies like NSA? and Facebook's corporate buddies? apart from other bad guys?

makes sense now doesn't it.... oh what's that? companies like facebook and google would never give backdoor access to these agencies?

People like PJ obviously never learn and are still naive. Kids.

Aug. 07 2014 12:33 AM
Kris Watson

All of the permissions, it's not worth it. If i want to chat with someone that badly, i'll just text message or log into facebook on my phone. I already uninstalled. It's just another way for them to gather your personal data.

Aug. 06 2014 11:03 PM
Kacky from US

For those who don't understand the warning about "malicious apps," Facebook is acknowledging that the permissions you're granting to their app for convenience sake could be taken advantage of by other apps just like "malicious software" can make use of access you grant to legitimate software. Therein lies the greater danger, imo. Facebook is saying "we're not responsible for hackers who gain access to your information through our app"

Aug. 06 2014 01:48 PM

So, please explain what the 'malicious' apps are that are mentioned in the terms? Because we, by accepting the terms, accept that they 'MAY' access our phone functions and data etc. In legal terms that means we give our consent for them to do so.

Aug. 04 2014 07:49 PM

So, please explain what the 'malicious' apps are that are mentioned in the terms? Because we, by accepting the terms, accept that they 'MAY' access our phone functions and data etc. In legal terms that means we give our consent for them to do so.

Aug. 04 2014 07:46 PM

My concern is the potential for abuse. As with any 'thin edge of the wedge' situation, what the intention for gaining such permissions now may well change over time to quite a different intention.

Facebook, with their recent revelations on social and emotional state experimentation, have demonstrated that they can engage in acts of direct manipulation of the their users. While they themselves may not want to do so, doesn't mean that they wont sell that ability and type of access to commercial and government clients in time. That we may have all inadvertently given permission for them to do so simply makes the situation easier and legal, though not less ethically and morally inappropriate.

Aug. 04 2014 05:56 PM

I totally disagree with the writer... True, Facebook wants you to be able to call your friends through Facebook instead of the normal way, and to send video's and pic's.

But they excplicitly state that it can be done without your intervention, and that has no meaning. If you want to sent a picture to your friends, you select it, so there is no need that Facebook can do this without you noticing it.

To me, this Facebook app should be renamed NSApp

Aug. 04 2014 10:40 AM

Then how about we change it to "access your microphone when making calls", "take pictures when you click the button", "post pictures when you request it", or "take videos when requested"? Why do the explicitly want all these privileges WITHOUT my permission?

Aug. 04 2014 08:16 AM
Eric Saferstein from Wheeling, WV

People have a fundamental right to know...
that if they are in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation order
and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device...
it's almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

Just some meaningless gibberish to consider. I"m sure there's nothing to worry about.


Aug. 03 2014 12:33 PM


I believe it was 1993 or '94, some news show featuring a right-wing flapper (in the Gulliverian sense, not the 1920s') for the rich who was arguing against the Clinton health-care insurance reform proposal (remember, the one in response to which the Heritage Foundation invented {Romney/Obama}care?) saying that '...Merkins will REFUSE to carry some damn I.D. card with their picture on it) was interrupted for a commercial in which a giant bank jubilantly touted their new, usurious, credit card featured your picture on it.

Lenin apparently never did say that capitalists would sell his State Capitalists the rope used to hang them, and it was an hyperbole-and-an-half to draw the comparison, but I immediately thought of it...all of the rights we're afraid the Evil Gummint will seize we will, under the right circumstances, sell to private entities for some mess of pottage or another---if we don't actually _pay_ them for the privilege.

(I don't speak from a position of moral superiority---I have twice alienated my inalienable right to free speech by signing separation agreements with firms in which in exchange for money---$O(10^4) and $O(10^3)---I have agreed never to 'disparage' them.)

Aug. 03 2014 11:40 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca.

Yes again to the point that just because that's for which they say they want something, the permission allows them to do as they will in that sphere.

Note that it is possible that when another application, or especially the phone sub-system, is using the microphone, it's locked for everyone else, which would be good news here.

I haven't verified this yet, but presumably if you root (or jailbreak, for iPhones) your phone there is software out there that will allow you to revoke individual permissions granted an application. This would probably trigger errors (probably not handled well) and/or exceptions (handled as well as the programmer and designer wanted)---my guess, based on little more than a lot of industry experience, is that Facebook and similarly resource-rich firms would rather the application didn't crash when the microphone suddenly looked unavailable...for example, if the microphone were in fact locked by the phone.

(Why do I write 'application' rather than 'app.'? See Orwell's great essay on politics and language; the word 'app' is used both because it was colloquial among developers [viz 'killer app.'] but also because it seems harmless and unassuming and friendly. Use your browser instead, whenever you can---it seems like many phone applications these days use most of the same web calls as the browser versions, but the browser versions---web pages---can't pick up as much data about you, especially with a browser that allows you to turn off third-party cookies, e.g. Firefox on Android.)

Aug. 03 2014 11:25 AM
Scott Wilcoxson from Springfield, Il

Even if Facebook does not misuse this added functionality, what is to keep others from doing so? More features and functions = more security issues.

Aug. 01 2014 10:24 AM
Micheal Farmer from AZ

Okay okay, let's just take a moment and forget any reason WHY facebook would want this info for any reason other than adds, but lets talk about logistics of them doing recording every bit on info that comes to and from your phone. Now, based on the other comments people have posted I can't see them all having a HUGE knowledge about how this kind of computing works. Okay, so about a billion people downloaded this app right? And say facebook is holding all the call logs from everyone of those people, all calls they have made and it updates every time the person makes a new call. That is a billion different, and constantly updating call logs that facebook has to store, organize and update. The amount of computing power that it would take to even just run that kind of system in a day would be HUGE not to mention the MASSIVE start-up cost of such a thing. Do you really think facebook gives a crap about who your calling? Do you think the government does? Do you think they want to spend that amount of money just to hear me try to land a date with some girl? No they don't! And even if they did the info would just be processed by a computer and stored away, and wouldn't likely be seen by any other person. If your laptop remembers your email is it really an invasion?

Jul. 31 2014 03:23 PM
Marc from NYC

The author's flip attitude in this article points towards the industry's generally cavalier attitude towards personal data. Wake up, people. This data identifies you, your daily lives, your personal information and gives you what in return? Saving a few clicks of the mouse or a swipe on the screen? You are worth more than that, my friends. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you begin to take back control of your on line lives. FB needs to add an opt out button so those who don't want to share don't have to.

Jul. 31 2014 10:32 AM
Paul Webb from Malaysia

I think the article misses the point by arguing that FB only needs the permission to do certain, possibly useful, things. The legal agreement that you make gives FB permission to do these things for _any_ purpose. You allow FB to turn on the microphone "at any time", not just "turn it on for the purposes of making a voice phone call".

Jul. 31 2014 06:42 AM
Tony from New York

Those whining that this isn't a real problem, consider that once your data is sucked up you lose control over its afterlives. For ever. Many people have already faced the nasty consequences of, say, embarassing selfies getting circulated long after they were taken and forgotten about. Should you trust facebook? Would you trust this guy? (Link from buisnessinsider, hardly the most fringe new source, below).

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me"

Zuck: Dumb fucks.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/well-these-new-zuckerberg-ims-wont-help-facebooks-privacy-problems-2010-5#ixzz38yYpKwVT


Jul. 30 2014 02:01 PM

It is not paranoia to not want to grant FB this access. If FB actually only cared about this feature for the reasons it states, it would allow you to download the app but deny that particular access. I am not naive enough to assume that any stranger has my best interest at heart, especially when that stranger is a publicly traded company that only cares about the bottom line. They have already admitted to conducting "social experiments." But go ahead an let them have unfettered access to your phone. It is only a matter of time before there is a security breach.

Jul. 29 2014 01:44 PM
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

Liberty will not be crushed by some socialist tyrant

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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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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