Facebook Messenger Permissions Not Evil
The permissions which Facebook's Messenger app looks for have been causing confusion and anger, but its nothing Facebook's main app doesn't request already.Reuters

You may have noticed a lot of your friends complaining recently about Facebook forcing them to install a separate Messenger app to continue using the company's chat service.

You may also have read some articles online about the insidious nature of installing this app on your phone, and how Messenger is the spawn of the devil, out to harvest all your most sensitive, privates thoughts and information - and for all we know, your vital organs too.

Facebook Messenger App Icon

There is a lot of scare-mongering going on surrounding Facebook's Messenger app, leading to a situation where people are simply refusing to install it on the grounds that it wants complete access to all the information stored on your smartphone or tablet.

And on the one hand it's not that surprising really, considering the amount of permissions Messenger requires you to give it upon installation.

On the Android version, you need to agree to give Messenger access to the following list of permissions before you can install Messenger (on Android):

  • Identity
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Location
  • SMS
  • Phone
  • Photos/Media/Files
  • Camera
  • Microphone
  • Wi-fi Connection information

What could Messenger want with your microphone? Why would it need access to your calendar? Or your Wi-Fi connection?

In reality

Facebook Messenger App Permissions on Android

The reality however is, that while these permissions may seem invasive, they are nothing the regular Facebook app isn't collecting from you anyway.

Have a look at the Facebook app permissions and you will see that it in fact requires access to even more data on users' phones and tablets.

As well as all of the above, it also requests access to your device and app history, device ID and a whole host of permissions categorised under "Other" including the ability to begin at startup, draw over other apps and change network connectivity.

The issue here seems to be that people are reacting to Facebook's decision to split the Messenger aspect of its service into an entirely new app and force users to download it if they want to continue using Messenger.

In a blog post addressing the Android permissions specifically, Facebook gives their interpretation of what the permissions for Messenger mean, pointing out Google controls the way permissions are named:

  • Take pictures and videos: This permission allows you to take photos and videos within the Messenger app to easily send to your friends and other contacts
  • Record audio: This permission allows you to send voice messages, make free voice calls, and send videos within Messenger
  • Directly call phone numbers: This permission allows you to call a Messenger contact by tapping on the person's phone number, found in a menu within your message thread with the person
  • Receive text messages (SMS): If you add a phone number to your Messenger account, this allows you to confirm your phone number by finding the confirmation code that we send via text message
  • Read your contacts: This permission allows you to add your phone contacts as Messenger contacts if you choose to do so. You can always stop syncing your phone contacts by going to your Messenger settings

iPhone permissions

The situation for iOS is slightly different. While Facebook Messenger on Apple's platform looks for a very similar set of permissions, iOS is designed such that users are given the ability to revoke each of these individually without stopping the app from working.

Much of the confusion and fear-mongering about Messenger has revolved around the requested permission to record audio without your permission.

In the Messenger app this is to allow users to record voice messages, just like Whatsapp, Viber or any of the dozens of messaging apps available ask permission to do.

What is less widely discussed, but much more worrying is the fact that the main Facebook app asks for a similar permission, but this is so that Facebook can listen in for up to 15 seconds while you write a status update in order to capture any music which might be playing in the background and share that with your followers.

Creepy, eh?