Tuesday November 25, 2014

Facebook permission list worries


A couple of months ago it started with friendly prompts to try out the new Facebook mobile messenger. I ignored them.

For the past two weeks, the ubiquitous social media giant has not given me the choice. Install it or forgo receiving instant messages on my phone. So far, I have forgone it because the first time I clicked on ‘install’ and read the list of permissions it required, I was appalled.

Among some pretty standard app permissions, this one wanted access to my phone’s contact list, my GPS, my camera, my microphone, WiFi data and text messages.

Since I am already feeling a little overwhelmed by my grasp of communications technology (see “ “ Thinking Critically, Yorkton This Week, DATE), this seemed totally intrusive. It didn’t help that there was already controversy brewing about the app, which there always is with Facebook because the company is ironically horrible at public relations.

Of course, there is a fine line between an Internet company attempting to provide better features and services and something nefarious being afoot. And, since I pride myself on critical thinking, I was not about to jump on the naysaying bandwagon.

Similarly, I was not about to leap headlong into granting Facebook seemingly unlimited access to my phone. I could wait to respond to messages until I was on my computer, or if I really wanted to respond immediately, login to the site using my phone’s browser instead of the mobile Facebook app.

Then, I started to get concerned about what kind of access the company already had by virtue of my having installed its mobile app to begin with. It turns out, the permissions I have already granted Facebook are fairly extensive.

Maybe it really is time to start opting out, but I have to say, I do get a great deal of enjoyment out of Facebook and it has also become a valuable tool in my job. Finally, I decided it was time to educate myself.

Tech blogs were a logical place to start. There are all kinds of people out there that spend all of their time looking into this stuff. Most of them say the hysteria over the new—actually it’s not, it has been available since 2011—is overblown. They also blame Facebook’s poor communications record to a certain extent for this.

Ultimately, most bloggers conclude that, in order to use the new features inherent in the mobile messenger app, such as voice calling, sending pictures, audio and video, it needs access to the microphone and camera. In this regard, it is no different from the Android messenger service I am already using, which also gives me pause.

Still, if I don’t want to use these enhanced services, why can’t they just give me the choice of using the built-in messenger? It is not as if they are discontinuing that service, which as a private company they would have every right to do.

Bloggers also point out that the terms of service for the messenger app is no different from Facebook’s regular terms of service. I presume this is meant to offer comfort, but I am not entirely sure it does.

Ultimately, the more I read about this stuff, my privacy fears are not allayed; it just reinforces that the complexity of the online world is beyond how much time I am willing to put into it to be a truly responsible use. It feels like it would be a full time job to keep up with and I have much better things I’d rather be doing.

So, I guess it comes down to whether I am willing to take a leap of faith. I am not very good at faith, in fact, I am terrible at it.

I still don’t know if I am going to install the app. In fact, I may uninstall Facebook from my phone completely and just connect on my computer. And maybe after I cut the phone cord—to use an anachronistic metaphor—I will be slowly, but surely, be able to wean myself off completely.

I know lots of people who are not on Facebook. Okay, not true, but I know a few and they seem to live fulfilled lives without it.

Is there a 12-step program for this? There probably should be.



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