Facebook Messenger raises concerns over user privacy

By Britnee Ganster
Managing Editor

Despite the recent uproar on social media surrounding their Messenger app, Facebook released a statement explaining the safety of the mandatory app. In recent weeks, Facebook users have been urged to download the new Messenger app as a substitute for the chat feature on their regular application. Upon opening a message in the Facebook app, users are shown a page which gives them a brief rundown of Messenger and gives the opportunity to download it from inside the app.

Messenger requires users to give permission for the application to access many seemingly unrelated areas of their devices like the camera, microphone and list of contacts. Many users vocalized their concerns by boycotting the application. The social networking platform faced allegations of trying to spy on its users by accessing their cameras to see their surroundings.

Facebook tried to clear up the controversy on their blog. “If you want to send a “selfie” to a friend, the app needs permission to turn on your phone’s camera and capture that photo. We don’t turn on your camera or microphone when you aren’t using the app,” Facebook representative and member of the Messenger development team Peter Martinazzi said.

Other popular apps, including Snapchat and Instagram, have similar — if not identical — privacy settings. Any application that can post photos from users’ accounts needs permission to access both the camera and the photo gallery. Even applications like Weatherbug and the Kim Kardashian Hollywood game require access to users’ locations and call logs.

On campus, some students do not seem fazed by the application’s settings. “There are no privacy issues. The Messenger app uses the same permissions as the normal Facebook app,” senior Garret Lafferty said.

Freshman Nicole Rose had the app installed and deleted it once she started hearing about all of the personal information it could access on her phone. Rose, like many others, believes there were no problems with the chat feature within the Facebook app. “It shouldn’t even be like that,” Rose said. “It shouldn’t have been changed at all.”

Martinazzi explained the benefit to Messenger in the blog post. “We’re committed to providing a fast, reliable and fun messaging app that anyone in the world can use to reach the people who matter to them,” Martinazzi wrote. “That’s why we’re focusing just on Messenger and moving messages out of the Facebook app.” He went on to explain the Messenger app increased users’ response times by 20 percent and introduces features like stickers (Facebook’s version of Emojis) and group chatting, both of which had limited possibility on the Facebook app.

Junior Tyler Jemetz suggested that even though other applications, namely the Facebook app, use similar privacy settings, the settings are not necessarily justified. “Simply noting that Facebook already has access to a large list of assets on your phone is not justification to be complacent and merely say the app is nothing new and shrug it off,” Jemetz said. “It should feed in to the larger discussion of, ‘is what I’m already agreeing to acceptable?’ Just because it’s nothing new, doesn’t mean the status quo is proper.”

Regardless of the controversy, Messenger is currently #1 on the Apple App Store and Android Google Play Store charts and downloads have skyrocketed since Martinazzi’s blog post.

Britnee Ganster is the managing editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at (814) 732-2266.