using facebook messenger safely
August 15, 2021 3:48 AM   Subscribe

A long time ago (before the messenger app) I removed the facebook app from my phone because privacy & security concerns. I have a Pixel. What's the current advice? Is it "safe"?

So I remember stuff (feels like a lifetime ago) about the facebook app slurping up stuff even if it didn't have permission to do so, and so have just accessed facebook & facebook messenger via web (and messenger clunkily on my phone using the 'view as desktop' page. )

However I'm now part of a local mum's group messenger thread and I'm wondering if it would be better if I had the messenger app, locked down using the Android capabilities to do so. I have a Pixel 3a.

Please let me know what the current privacy/security concerns are, specifically regarding the messenger app. Can I use it without it slurping up my on-phone contacts?

posted by freethefeet to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, my understanding is that the risk is not that Facebook is a security risk (allow unknown Actors Access to your phone), but rather a privacy risk. By allowing Facebook onto your phone, you are allowing Facebook to collect data.

While some settings can be altered on this, what this means in practice is that Facebook likely will be able to see what apps you are using, when, and potentially know your precise location at any given time. (Which can, in turn, build a profile of who you are and who you associate with). Facebook could (but unlikely) be learning your browser history and text/messenger history.

So far, Facebook has used this kind of data primarily to sell targeted ads to businesses. However, they do release information to the government when requested. There's various security reasons why this data is unlikely to be "breeched" at a massive level. So, giving access is giving your trust that Facebook will work in your best interest rather than the interest of various bad actors.

Which... I in general do trust that Facebook wants to protect people's trust in their security, and will protect me. So, I do have messenger installed on my phone (though with few permissions turned on).
posted by bbqturtle at 5:48 AM on August 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Use the Friendly app. It's a facebook reader and you don't have to get a second app for messenger.
posted by phunniemee at 6:14 AM on August 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I believe Messenger to be fairly secure and rather difficult for them to monetize or invade as it stands. I would suggest everyone enable end to end encryption, and as of last week video and audio calls will also be encrypted that way. As for permissions, I think you should be able to control slurping and other shady behaviors with the system-level controls.

So far the few attempts to monetize messaging have been pretty abortive. As laissez-faire as they are about it elsewhere, people really don't like the idea of ads or monitoring happening in their private threads.

Facebook is looking into things like homomorphic encryption, which would let them analyze encrypted data without decrypting it, but that's very unlikely to happen in a big way any time soon. The security world is pretty sure about this.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:48 AM on August 15, 2021

App security/privacy on the phone itself has actually improved significantly over the last few years. Both Google and Apple have gotten serious about permissions, so when you install the app it will say exactly what it requests access to by default. It looks like I did grant Messenger access to my contacts, but I can go into the Contacts permissions in my settings and revoke it at any time. I denied access to Calendar, Phone, and SMS when it asked for them according to my current settings

Facebook still has access to the actual messages you read/send in the app and will use them to do various things like target ads. The real question here is: Do you actually care? I use messenger almost exclusively to organize events with friends or share stupid photos, and I do not care if Facebook is snooping about that very unimportant data. I wouldn't use Messenger for something truly important or private (Telegram exists for that), but it's totally fine for just exchanging low-stakes messages with friends and strangers
posted by JZig at 12:38 PM on August 15, 2021

I know Facebook is snooping through everything I do, but it’s also snooping through what billions of other people are doing, too. In a crowd that large I can’t imagine anything I’m doing is of particular interest. And in the meantime FB has benefits, in that it’s entertaining and it helps me get freelance gigs, so I’ve decided the benefits outweigh the risks.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the Friendly app. Been using it for years. It's a little slow (you basically have to wait 5 seconds for eeeeeverything) but it's not putting tentacles into my phone.
posted by intermod at 5:51 PM on August 16, 2021

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