That little ‘Play’ button icon appeared on the header of my Galaxy S3 again this week; the one that signals that there are new updates available for some of the apps on my phone.
On the list were the usual suspects: updates for my FitBit, a new LinkedIn app, the bi-monthly new levels for Angry Birds and also a new Facebook update.
Typically I’d just press the ‘Update All’ option on these, but there are few apps that I like to see exactly what they are adding to my phone, in particular anything firmware related and anything from Google and Facebook – mainly because I don’t trust them.
After all, Google and Facebook were one of the big Internet businesses named in recent NSA spying allegations as two companies that hand over user data to the agency (a claim they both deny). Additionally the two are quite well known for adding in little goodies that track every single activity you do at any opportunity.
And with this latest Facebook app, that’s exactly what they had done again.
Some of the new ‘features’ of the new Facebook app that it now has permission to do are:
The ability to read your SMS/MMS messages
Facebook needs access to additional information to read your text messages (SMS and MMS)
Access to your system tools
The ability to change network connectivity, connect and disconnect from Wi-Fi. Draw over other apps, prevent phone from sleeping, reorder running apps, retrieve running apps, toggle sync on and off.
The ability to change your audio settings and record audio, take pictures and videos
Access your personal information
Add or modify calendar events and send email to guests without the owners’ knowledge, read calendar events plus confidential information, read your own contact card. Modify your contacts, read call log, read your contacts, write call log.
In addition to these, there were the permissions that needed to be re-verified that it already had the ability to conduct, including:
Modify or delete contents of your USB storage
Approximate network based location and exact GPS location
Services that cost you money
Directly call phone numbers
Add or remove accounts, create accounts and set passwords
Read phone status and identity
Plus there is also all of this information Facebook collect purely by you being on the platform.
Most of the above are functions that allow your phone to run the Facebook app as you are used to. EG: display Facebook profile pics in contacts, check in at locations, save images from Facebook to your phone. But some of the newer functions essentially turn your phone into the greatest personal spying device ever. Allowing massive amounts of personal data to be accessed by a publically listed American company – known for having extremely lax views on user privacy.
One could suspect that these new additions are one more step towards Facebook getting wider integration of their Facebook Home service. Facebook Home is an app launched in 2013 that allows Facebook to be the overrunning app for your phone at all times. Displaying updates and Facebook interactions directly to your home-screen without needing to specifically access the app. It’s essentially Facebook on all the time and overwriting some of the features of your phone’s OS. You can read a little more about it here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.facebook.home&hl=en
The SMS permission in particular is likely designed to allow for two-step authentication; a process Google has been pushing rather aggressively lately. Two-step authentication means that if you lose or need to reset your password, then there are multiple steps you need to take to retrieve the info (typically email resent and SMS confirmation. This step actually assists with security, making it more difficult for people with malicious intent to access your account.
This however does not change the fact that with this latest minor update we are once again providing access to even more personal data to Facebook than ever before.
The Battle For Your Data
There is currently a battle for data supremacy in the commercial market at the moment, and the two biggest players are Facebook and Google. These two businesses are going to great lengths to capture more and more data than ever before – all under the banner of ‘making your life more connected’.
“Facebook and Google are going to great lengths to capture more and more data than ever before”
It’s a battle that’s likely to get bigger in the coming months/years as Facebook last week publicaly announced that Facebook are now aiming to directly compete with Google for the search market.
The Facebook app is sitting at 500,000,000 – 1 Billion downloads from the Play store alone. That’s a hell of a lot of people who are about to hand over access to this personal information. And with each update, and each new feature of Facebook we are giving our permission to allow this platform to gather more and more information about ourselves. Is gradually chipping away at our private information, all so we can check out our friends witty status updates, photos of food or links to funny things your mates have found on Reddit really worth it?
Ultimately, this is an update that you can choose to install.
If the idea of Facebook – a publicly listed US corporation – being able to control your Wi-Fi/internet activity, read and utilise your SMS and MMS, edit and read your contact lists, record audio & video and access and read your call logs, then the update is now available for free. Enjoy.
I strongly advise to keep an eye on exactly what you are giving permission too each time you hit that little ‘Update Application’ button – for all applications, not just Facebook or Google.