The Great Facebook Messenger Scare of 2014August 12, 2014
There has been a veritable tidal wave of scare posts around the net over the last few days, bemoaning the end of the world as we know it and the advent of an Orwellian police state, care of Facebook’s “blatantly evil” Messenger App. I wanted to say a few things on this. Firstly:
PLEASE CALM DOWN FOLKS
My wife asked me last night what this was all about, and should she care. I decided to answer in more detail than she was prepared for.
Here’s my take on this.
Since Facebook’s introduction, it’s allowed users to send messages to one another. Facebook beefed up this service in 2010 with its Facebook Messages service, and since then has continued to try to add features to Messages to make it a viable alternative to texting / Skype / email, etc.
Realize: Facebook is NOT the largest social network in the world.
The largest social network in the world is TEXT MESSAGING. With over 4.3 BILLION users planetwide who can send & receive text messages, texting is still the 400-lb gorilla in the communications space. 2.2 billion of these text message users have Internet on their phones. Less than half of these use Facebook.
Facebook isn’t even the 2nd-largest social network in the world. That’s EMAIL, with around 2.9 billion email users worldwide.
So, put yourself in Facebook’s shoes. You want people to use your service, you want to be the way they communicate, and somehow replace entrenched media like email & texting. How to make your service useful & feature-rich enough to replace the “text”?
That’s why they’ve been aggressively rolling out updates to Facebook Messenger, adding things like the ability to snap & send video messages, photos, likes, etc. To send your location to a friend tell them where you are, easily add in groups of friends to the conversation, etc.
To date, they’ve been trying to do this both in their main Facebook app, as well as the standalone Messenger app that much better handles all of these functions.
Now, realize they have to develop & maintain these apps on Desktop Web, Mobile Web, Apple iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry.
Do you realize how much work that is? If I were Facebook, that’d be reason #1 #1 #1 to eliminate Messenger code from the main Facebook app. I.e. if you don’t use Messenger, no reason to bloat the main FB app, and if you DO use Messenger, there’s one app that FB can then focus on to make the experience really good.
OH BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TERRIBLE PRIVACY CONCERNS??
People have mainly been up in arms about FB messenger not because they have to install another app, but because the app requires such app permissions as:
- Ability to use the camera without warning you first
- Ability to read & modify your contacts including your phone contacts
- Ability to read all your text messages
OK. First off, if you like being able to send photos or video messages to friends, it has to use the camera. And if you want to have the app have the ability to pull in your contacts so you can message them, it needs to read your contact list.
But never mind that.
Take the folks who are complaining about Facebook Messenger, and I guarantee they’ve already got at least 4 other apps on their phone that have similar permissions.
The WhatsApp app (incidentally ALSO OWNED BY FACEBOOK) already has these permissions. Same with the Skype App and the Google Hangouts App. And those apps are already PRE-INSTALLED on many AT&T / T-Mobile / Verizon handsets.
So, taking these Facebook Messenger privacy concerns and “drawing the line” as Facebook “having gone too far”, is like crossing a 10-lane interstate on foot, and stopping after the 6th lane, saying “If I go any further, I’ll be in the middle of the road!!”
If you have an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone device, each of these companies has already synced all of your photos, text messages and contacts to the cloud as a backup, unless you’ve checked all of the myriad boxes to turn that off, which I’ll bet you haven’t.
And whilst I’m an Edward Snowden believer as much as anyone, and believe the NSA has their hands in all sorts of systems that they shouldn’t, I have positively zero reason to believe that for some reason they only have their hands in Facebook, and not in Google, Apple and Microsoft as well.
So, if you do have a genuine concern about what Facebook could potentially do with this data, I really suggest you not use Facebook at all, don’t use a commodity smartphone at all, run your own email server that you’ve hardened and secured yourself, and look into only sharing your photos with your friends using a paper photo album.