app privacy

iOS App Privacy Permissions: How to Take Control of the Facebook Messenger App

You’ve probably heard about it: Facebook recently removed the private messaging feature from the Facebook app and now require users to download Facebook Messenger to view, read, or respond to messages. With about a bazillion users, it isn’t surprising that the world is buzzing with commentary on the split of Facebook’s app offerings. This commentary is mostly negative, with criticism including frustration over users being forced to adopt a separate messenger app and, of course, the slew of app privacy concerns raised over the new terms and conditions.

As Mashable notes, “This has put the [new messenger] app in the unique position of being the number one free app in the App store, but with the most dismal rating an app can have.” This quote comes from a week ago, when the app had a pretty embarrassing one-star rating. Things have since picked up, earning the new app an extra half-star.

After a quick look at Facebook Messenger’s App Store reviews and reading articles being shared on this subject, we felt it necessary to clear up how iOS handles app privacy. This should give you an understanding on how an app can interact with your private information and where you can access these controls.

We should note, however, that the information we’re about to share only applies to iPhones that have not been jailbroken. Androids and jailbroken iPhones, because of the open nature of these operating systems, lose the level of security you get Apple’s more regulated sandbox.

The Basics: iOS Permissions Layer and the App Store Review

The first big reason you shouldn’t be too stressed about an app taking liberties with your photos, camera, web browsing history, text messages, or location (and so on) is because of the iOS permissions layer. This layer is basically what allows you to be the gatekeeper that grants or denies an app access to features and data you might want to protect, like location services.

If you’ve granted permission for an app to access your location, iOS will essentially act as a liaison between your GPS and the app, making sure you’ve in fact granted this permission and providing your location to the app once things have checked out. If you haven’t granted this permission, iOS will deny the request and alert you of this. The key here is that iOS acts as an intermediary so your apps don’t ever query features like location services themselves.

What stops you from downloading sketchy apps that bypass the iOS permissions layer is the App Store review. Every app therein has been tested and vetted to be free of backdoor data-compromising techniques.

What This Means For Your App Privacy

The long and short of it is that Facebook, or any other app for that matter, can’t collect information that you don’t willingly grant them permission for on the OS level. So if you’re worried about the new Facebook Messenger accessing your photos, contacts, location, and so forth — and by reading user reviews and commentary, many of you are worried — you should simply deny it the ability to do so.

How To Take the Reins

Based on the information we’ve provided, you can probably guess that the real important app privacy controls for Facebook don’t actually live in the app itself. They’re actually in the Settings section of your iPhone. Why? It’s that super helpful iOS permissions layer at work again.

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Head to Settings >  Privacy. Here you can see all the sensitive features that you might not want Facebook to have access to, like your microphone and GPS. Feel free to leave these on or deny them access, whatever makes you feel more comfortable.

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One comment

  • Steve Johnson 26 October, 2016   Reply →

    What about it automatically scanning my contact list and providing me with suggestions? Just because someone is in my contact list (salesman, blocked telemarketer, vendor) doesn’t mean that I want to be matched up on Facebook.

    The app privacy settings that are supposed to limit this aren’t effective.

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