Why You Should Delete All Facebook Mobile Apps Right Now

fblogoIt’s nice that Facebook is so generous and they give us their service and apps for free. One should never look a gift horse in the mouth, right? Well, if the gift horse is stomping through my bedroom and texting all of my friends while I’m not looking, I think it bears my attention.  And yours. So tell me why Facebook needs these permissions on my Android phone:

  • read calendar events plus confidential information
  • add or modify calendar events and send email to guests without owners’ knowledge
  • read your text messages (SMS or MMS)
  • directly call phone numbers
  • create accounts and set passwords
  • change network connectivity
  • connect and disconnect from Wi-Fi

This is a cut and pasted subset of the list, which you can peruse at the Facebook app page on Google Play. Just scroll down to the “Additional Information” section and click the “View Details” link under the “Permissions” header. Consider:

  • Many of these are invitations for identify theft.  Facebook can place phone calls, send emails, and schedule appointments without your advance knowledge or explicit permission.
  • With full internet access and the ability to create accounts and set passwords, Facebook could theoretically lock you out of your device and set up an account for someone else.

Now, I’m not paranoid — I don’t think that the Facebook app is doing a lot of these things.  But I have no idea why it requires the permissions to do all of this, and the idea that an app might communicate with my contacts without my explicit okay causes me great concern. Sure, I want to be able to set up events on my tablet.  But I want a box to pop up saying that the app will now send the invites to Joe, Mary and Grace; and then ask “Is that okay?” before it actually does it.  I maintain some sensitive business relationships in my contacts.  I don’t think it’s a reasonable thing for Facebook to have the ability to manage them for me.

This is all the more reason to be worried about Facebook’s plan to remove the messaging features from the Facebook app and insist that we all install Facebook Messenger if we want to share mobile pictures or chat with our friends.  Because this means well have two apps with outrageous permissions if we want to use Facebook on the go.

I’ve always considered Facebook’s proposition to be a bit insidious. My family and friends are all on there.  I could announce that I’m moving over to Google Plus, but most of them would not follow me there.  That is the sole reason that I continue to use Facebook.

But it’s clear to me that Facebook is building it’s profit model on sharing a lot of what makes me a unique individual.  I share my thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes, and relationships on their platform. They, in turn, let their advertisers know that they have far more insight into who I am, what I’ll buy, and what my friends will buy than the average website.  Google’s proposition is quite similar, but Google seems to be more upfront and respectful about it, and the lure I get from Google is “we’ll give you very useful tools in return”.  Google respects me enough to show some constraint: the Google+ app on Play requires none of the permissions listed above. So I don’t consider Facebook to be a company that has much respect for me in the first place.  And that’s all the more reason to not trust  them with my entire reputation on my devices.

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4 thoughts on “Why You Should Delete All Facebook Mobile Apps Right Now

  1. Ben Greenberg

    Thanks for this hair raising explainer. I’d heard someone else say something about ditching FB mobile apps but hadn’t pieced it all together. Question: would FB in the mobile browser allow us to avoid most or all of these issues so we can continue to maintain the necessary evil of FB on the go?

    And another question: what about the access we give FB to our devices when we sign in via the system settings to enable sharing functionalities in other apps (I’m assuming this is similar in ios and android).

    How locked down must we be in order to feel secure that FB is not gaining inappropriate access to our data?

  2. techcafe Post author

    FB in the browser will be much, much safer, because a web page doesn’t have all of the system and app access. It’s far less convenient, because now that I’ve removed the Facebook app, I can’t share from my camera or gallery. So I’m more likely to sync photos to my mac and share from the web interface there, losing the spontaneity of sharing on the spot.

    I’m not knowledgeable enough about your second question — On Android, FB is a registered app that shows up in my “Share to” screens in other apps as an option. I didn’t do anything other than install it to make that happen. But also note that FB might not be so evil on iPhones — it’s quite possible that Apple doesn’t allow any app the level of invasive permissions that Google does. Apple’s store has all of those baby-proofing safeguards built in, that protect you and keep you from being able to donate in-app. 😉

    Finally, this is all a matter of degrees. Web-based FB clearly spies on other open windows and tabs when I have it open in my browser, and then serves up ads based on what it sees. Short of deleting my account, I assume that I’m always at some risk. I put it all on a scale of risk vs benefit. The mobile stuff tipped way too far on the risk side; the web experience is still pretty well-balanced.

  3. Gurukarm Khalsa

    Someone in my FB feed (ahem!) was asking these exact questions re Messenger, the other day. I had not read the ToS closely enough (again, ahem!) to know it was going to try to do all these things. Still thinking through the ramifications, but probably will delete Messenger from my Android tablet, and go to FB on the browser, as you suggest. I haven’t installed it yet on iPhone, probably won’t, again. Thanks! (and hi Ben!)

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