You Can All Calm Down About The Facebook Messenger App


Facebook logo
The Facebook Messenger app controversy is a bit overblown. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Some people are seriously unamused about the Facebook Messenger app and the liberties that it takes regarding the permissions the app demands. For those who aren’t up to speed, here’s a rundown on the app permissions the app on Mashable.

It does seem a bit over the top, doesn’t it? Well, a lot of applications ask for the same permissions and there’s a functional intent behind most of them. Also, if you use Facebook, extensive permissions and use of the data go with the territory. If you aren’t comfortable with that much access to data about you, get off social networks and only use private browsing.

Facebook Messenger App: The Tip Of The Iceberg

What some people don’t know (or at least couldn’t be bothered to find out because they’re lazy or ignorant) is that Facebook is actually an enormous data mining operation with a social network attached to it.

Here’s how it works: your online activity, such as cookies from sites you browse, things you mention in social network posts, products you look at, music you listen to, pages you “like,” etc., are collated to reveal what products and services you ostensibly like. Advertisers pay for this information, and pay to make sure you see ads for said items, in the hopes that you’ll buy it. (See these articles on Time, CNN and The New York Review of Books for more information; hopefully you can get a better picture of the scope of data trafficking as an industry.)

Granted, some people prefer it this way; it’s called “targeted marketing,” as it can (in theory) cut down on advertising you don’t want. That said, some people don’t, such as when Target got in hot water for knowing when women were pregnant through data mining. Tagged a location? That gets them geotargeted too.

This is BIG business. You know those pesky ads on Google, the ones that respond to your browser’s cookies? They made Google nearly $56 billion in 2013. Facebook data mining made that company more than $2 billion in the fourth quarter of FY2013 – from mobile users alone.

Ever take a quiz on Facebook? Hey, they’re fun. They are also a gold mine. Content aggregators/generators (such as BuzzFeed) quantify and relay the information from people reposting quiz results or links to the party that got them to create it. That information tells advertisers things like what TV shows, foods, clothing, cars, etc., that specific people like and therefore, what ads might get them to buy something.

Posted your results about which “Game of Thrones” house you belong in? HBO’s marketing department sends its regards. Also its checks, but not to you.

A Constant Criticism

This isn’t new. The Facebook Messenger App is just the latest stunt; insufficient protection of privacy and user data is one of the most constant criticisms of the social network.  Facebook has been repeatedly sued over privacy violations, violations of federal wiretap law, etc., numerous times. Edward Snowden revealed they were participants in the NSA’s PRISM program. For those who don’t follow the news, PRISM is one of the single largest violations of civil liberties in living memory. If you aren’t angry about it…you probably work for the NSA. (Or you’re an idiot.)

This is also hardly an issue germane only to Facebook; Google, Twitter, just about every web or tech company one can name, does the same thing.