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The truth about Facebook's new messenger app

Facebook Messenger Settings
Allie Angelo

The technology world, your Facebook newsfeed, and news sites everywhere are buzzing with endless speculations about the new Facebook Messenger application that arrived this past week. Facebook recently made the app mandatory for mobile users; you weren't able to use the Facebook chat function until the app was downloaded. The fact that this application was mandatory on mobile combined with articles circulating the internet claiming that Facebook could, in fact, use this app to spy on you or take control of your phone has caused an uproar among users.

A lot of this speculation comes from the content of the Android app permissions box that pops up previous to downloading the messenger app. Any Android user can tell you that this permissions box almost always pops up, prompting them to agree to app permissions, before they're able to proceed with a download. The particular permissions box that accompanies the Facebook Messenger app shows a long list of permissions, including: Access to the phone's camera, access to the phone's contacts, calendar, SMS, and other similar items. A lot of people, upon seeing this, jumped to the conclusion that this meant absolute access to these things if a person were to download Facebook Messenger. This, however, isn't the case.

First off, Facebook has stated that these app permissions haven't changed; whether you've previously downloaded the Facebook app itself or other versions of Facebook Messenger, these are the same permissions their apps have always asked for. Not only that, but a long list of other commonly downloaded applications ask for similar permissions. So, what's the big deal this time? The answer: A perfect storm of fear, irritation, and misinformation. An older Huffington Post article as well as a new article out of a radio station in Houston played a big part in stoking the fire. Both articles claiming that agreeing to the app permissions for Facebook Messenger would allow unhindered access to your phone, camera, personal information, location, personal calendar, and a long list of other private information many of us have stored on our smart phones. This combined with the general irritation users felt over the app being mandatory, rather than an option as it has been in the past, has succeeded in causing anger, fear, and misinformed guesswork over Facebook's new app.

The thing is, none of this speculation is true. As was mentioned before, a lot of applications will ask for the same permissions when you go to download them. Mostly, you probably don't pay very much attention to them, much like many of us don't pay attention to the terms and conditions we agree to on the websites we visit. The people who wrote the aforementioned articles are obviously not entirely clear on how Android app permissions function. When you agree to allow an application access to certain things, it doesn't mean that the app will have unrestricted access to all of your private information. Most of the time, it simply means that the app may need to access certain information in order to run properly. This could include account information, in order to link your Facebook account to your messenger; or even your location, in order to include your general location to those you're messaging.

Still freaked out? There's another interesting thing that both authors of the articles we mentioned, as well as others spreading this hysteria haven't said anything about. If you proceed with downloading the application, you'll see something interesting: Once the app is downloaded you're taken to a step-by-step set-up where you get to choose how you want your messenger app to function. Among the choices you're given, you have the choice to:

  • Allow Facebook Messenger access to your contacts or not.
  • Allow Facebook Messenger access to your pictures or not.
  • Allow Facebook Messenger access to your location or not.

The list goes on, but you probably get the idea. The fact is, you can opt out of most of the panic-causing permissions the app comes with. Just like you've always been able to tell Facebook not to show your location, not to link with your contacts or email address book, and not to alert people to your birthday or anniversaries. So, if you're really worried about it, all you have to do is click "no" for these options during the set-up phase.

Don't believe every frantic, paranoia-filled article you come across on the internet. The fact that the author's of the previously mentioned articles caused such an uproar over a simple smart phone app is ridiculous. Freaking out thousands or even millions of people over assumptions that aren't based entirely in fact is not the way to report on news and current issues. Facebook isn't spying on you or planning on taking over your phone or your mind, so don't worry. Sure, maybe it's a little annoying that they've made their app mandatory for mobile users, but it could be worse, right?

All in all, the new Facebook Messenger has a smooth and user-friendly interface that you'll probably enjoy. It's style and function almost mimics that of a smart phone's texting app, which many will find more useful. These factors in addition to the easy customization and noticeable, yet not annoying, notifications make the new Facebook Messenger a great app. If you can get past the hype that's been created over it, you'll probably realize, "Hey, this really is easier than trying to use the small, in-app messenger I stubbornly clung to before."