Facebook For Android: A New Revelation Raises More Concerns

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It’s a no-brainer that the social network knows a lot about you – apart from your likes and dislikes.

While Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) is yet to recover from the recent fallout from Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed how user data from millions of Facebook accounts was misused, it has attracted a new trouble concerned with privacy. The social network has been accused of scraping call records and SMS logs on some Android devices for years. Several users were spooked by the revelations of the data breach, that urged them to download all their data that Facebook stores in the accounts. The results were startling for some.

A tweet from Dylan Mckay, a New-Zealand based programmer, has raised some hairs. A data archive he downloaded from his Facebook account had two years worth of phone call metadata from his Android device containing names, phone numbers and even call durations.

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A report from Ars Technica has revealed the Android connection with the latest data breach. The report suggests that Facebook has been requesting phone-contact data to improve the Friend-recommendation algorithm. Facebook appears to be collecting this data through its Messenger app. The recent versions of the Messenger app offer a more explicit opt-in prompt to upload contact data, including call and text logs. Although, those aren’t the only ways.

According to Ars report, in older versions of Android – specifically before Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) – Facebook app accessed contact, call and message data automatically when Android permissions were a lot less strict. Google changed the permission structure in version 16 of the Android API, but Android apps could bypass this if they were written in earlier versions of API. Thereby Facebook continued to access call and SMS data until Google depreciated version 4.0 of the API in October last year.

Now, even if it has been opt-in the whole time, either way, it was alarming for those who found their call records stored on Facebook servers.

Facebook Denies But Play With Words

In a ‘fact-check’ blog post published on Sunday, Facebook has denied that it gathered any data surreptitiously. The company clarified on the data collection and told that the feature is opt-in. It also added that the users are in control of the data uploaded and that it never sells any data to any third-parties. However, it failed to address in the post that why it needs to collect the data and what it uses it for.

A Facebook spokesperson has responded about data gathering and has presented a not-so-convincing reason:

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“The most important part of apps and services that help you make connections is to make it easy to find the people you want to connect with. So, the first time you sign in on your phone to a messaging or social app, it’s a widely used practice to begin by uploading your phone contacts.”

This outbreak has added on to the recent speculations on Facebook regarding Cambridge Analytica harvesting data of 50 million Facebook users. The company has improvised on its privacy controls in recent years to prevent such occurrences, but in the wake of this finding, it has come under mounting pressure from privacy advocates and its users.

Interestingly, Facebook users on iOS are unaffected only because Apple never allows such privacy violations. Facebook’s iOS app is unable to capture such data from an iPhone. Apple users should be thankful for its secure privacy controls.

If you wish to check your data on the Facebook account you can do so easily by going to Facebook’s Settings -> Download a copy of your Facebook data –> Start My Archive.

We should turn on the lights when we see something lurking in the dark. Can this uproar push messenger users to opt-out or turn of the sharing feature? Or they should go for the #DeleteFacebook movement? It does sound abrupt, but Facebook needs to answer some additional questions regarding this data collection. But till then you may need to revisit your strategy of using Facebook on Android smartphone!

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