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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection The Resource Center | article

Does Facebook’s Messenger App Threaten Your Privacy?

Facebook-MessengerFacebook's new Messenger app, which the social network is requiring smartphone users to download if they want to communicate with their friends through private messages, is raising a host of privacy concerns.

Some technology writers worried that Messenger's permissions and terms of service would essentially allow Zuckerberg and friends to record users' data, read their private text messages and even spy on their real-time activity via cell phone microphones and cameras.

"…↑ In the case of Messenger on Android, the attempt to collect so much information and take control of one’s device is unprecedented and, quite frankly, frightening," writes The Huffington Post's Sam Fiorella. "The fact that so many people have agreed to these permissions is an alarming insight into the future of mobile apps and personal security."

Confused about what Messenger is allowed to do? Here's a quick break down of its permissions from the social network's help page:

  • Pictures and video: The app can access your photos and videos so that you can send them to your friends in messages.>
  • Audio: This permission enables you to send voice messages and make live calls through Messenger.
  • Calls: The app is allowed to make direct calls from your cell, so that you can directly contact a person's phone via the number they listed on their Facebook profile.
  • SMS: Under its current terms and conditions, the company can edit, receive, read and send SMS text messages on and from your phone. Facebook says this permission allows it to confirm via text message that you have listed the correct phone number on your Messenger account.

If you feel alarmed when reading about the above permissions you may have already granted Facebook Messenger, you are certainly not alone. However, while this particular app has gotten a lot of negative buzz, the truth is that its terms and conditions are not much different than those of many other programs probably already on your phone - including the main Facebook app.

As Fiorella points out: "If this many people have not checked the permission groups that apply to Facebook Messenger (or have read them and don’t care), how emboldened will mobile developers be in the future?"

Remember that you do not have to let Messenger access your cell phone data. If you do not feel comfortable agreeing to the app's permissions, then refrain from reading your messages on an iPhone or Android smartphone. Checking them on a desktop, laptop and/or tablet does not require Messenger.

You should also closely examine the permissions and terms of service associated with apps that are already on your phone. You may very well be surprised by how much access they have to you private data.

Most downloads require a certain degree of trust. Do you trust Facebook to use access to your text messages responsibly? If not, then don't download any of the company's apps. The same principle applies to any other company or app developer.

While the rise of the Internet and the advent of smartphones have, in many ways, made our lives far easier, in other ways they have exposed us to an unprecedented risk of identity theft. If you have apps on your smartphone, use a social media site or have ever shopped online, you could be targeted by cyber criminals. To protect yourself, consider investing in a credit monitoring system and a password manager. While neither can guarantee your security, they can add extra layers of protection, alerting you to certain activity that may indicate fraud in your name and keeping your access codes locked in a digital vault.

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