HOUSTON - What if we told you that your smart phone camera can start recording at any time and that the microphone can record your conversations without you knowing? It turns out if you download Facebook's Messenger app, you're giving it permission to do those things. Local 2 Consumer Expert Amy Davis reached out to Facebook to find out why.
If you use Facebook on your smart phone, you probably saw the notice that you need to download the new Messenger app to direct-message your friends. Facebook says the new app is 20 percent faster than the main Facebook app, but some people are asking if it's worth all the privacy you'll give up in the process.
When you install Messenger, the fine print advises you that you'll be giving Facebook permission to "take pictures and videos," "record audio," "know your precise location" using the phone's GPS and to "read your contacts."
"Big brother, overzealous lawyer... creepy," said Facebook user Mike.
But University of Houston College of Technology Director Art Conklin says it's not as creepy as it sounds.
"Does an app like Facebook Messenger need to see my contact list?" asked Conklin. "If I want seamless integration... yes! That's what I'm asking for is so that when I click on my friend, it knows who they are, and it can connect to them."
A Facebook spokesperson told us Messenger allows video and voice-based messages and that's why it would need to access your camera and microphone.
"But what else can they use that information for?" Conklin asked. "I've given them permission to use that information not just for what I want to use it for or what they thought I wanted to use it for, but for all the uses they can use it for."
That is the big question, but Conklin says he's far less concerned about the big Facebooks, Microsofts and Googles of the world.
"Do you trust Facebook?" asked Conklin. "I would. It's in their interest not to harm their user base."
The permissions requested by Messenger are common in the world of apps, and with more than half a million available, it's difficult to know who is looking at your pictures, reading your contacts and pinpointing your location.
"You should consider the majority of these like people you meet on the street," explained Conklin. "You have no idea who they are. Would you be willing to share that same information with a random stranger?"
The next time you download an app, make sure you read the terms of service. Ask yourself, for example, if you're downloading a flashlight app, why would it need access to your contacts? If it doesn't make sense, don't download it.
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