Updated Facebook Messenger app raises privacy concerns

By Melissa Rohman

The Facebook Messenger app has been a part of Facebook since 2011 but it was recently updated on Oct 29. Now, users can video chat, sync contacts from their cell phones, send videos and make free calls through the app. Facebook now requires users to download the app if they want to use the messenger functions on their cell phones; the previous messenger app is no longer available on mobile devices.

Since its last update, the Facebook Messenger app received 2 out of 5 stars on the iTunes App store among 1,200 ratings. Over 50 percent of these ratings and reviews are negative. Many people are upset that they were forced to download the app and not given the option to continue using the original Facebook messaging system. User comments called the update “annoying,” “counterintuitive,” and “ridiculous.”

Freshman Rubi Tabar has been an avid Facebook user for five years. She said Facebook should not force users to use the app: “Facebook should focus more on their users than the app because ultimately that’s where their revenue and website traffic comes. The smartest thing for them to do as a company is to cater to their user not some app they are hoping will at one point is accepted.” Tabar said.

According to the NBC News, there are many misconceptions when it comes to Facebook’s messaging app. For example, while the app requires access to your phone’s microphone and camera, it only uses these when you enable voice calling and video recording or send videos to a friend.

Facebook came under fire earlier this year regarding their Sponsored Stories. Previously, Facebook alerted users when their friends interacted with a sponsored page, app or event. Facebook used photos of users alongside these alerts. The feature was soon retired on April 9, 2014, due to user complaints regarding “likeness without consent”—using their photos to promote things without their permission. Angry parents filed class action lawsuit against Facebook due to this breach of privacy and specifically what it meant for Facebook users who are minors. The parents demanded parental consent if minors’ pictures were to be used for promotion. In late August, Facebook paid $20 million to lawyers and users to settle case.

Tabar said she understands the privacy risks associated with regular social media use. “Being a part of the Internet means that my privacy is invaded either way, I didn’t join Facebook to hide my life, but to share it with my friends and family. Of course I feel that my privacy is invaded but can I really expect more from a social media website?” Tabar said.

A list of permissions is available in Facebook’s privacy information, which all users have access to but few take the time to read. Facebook informs users, however cryptically, that they are in control of turning on location features, syncing contacts to their phones and allowing Facebook to use the information they post on the site.

Freshman Khay-leen Wright said, “It is unrealistic to say that we must all be informed but if individuals take the time to actually read the permission and conditions of the site or app before choosing whether or not to allow the informational accessibility, the individual will have better say to the protection of their information.”

Tabar said privacy lies in the hands of the user: “To protect ourselves, we can decide whether social media is for us or not because, in the great scheme of things, being a part of any type of social media leaves room for lack of privacy. We should learn how to censor ourselves and make sure not to put anything out there that we feel is risky or that we would feel violated over.”