The great Facebook Messenger cock-up

Tim Smith
By Tim Smith | 18 August 2014

If you use Facebook, even rarely, you’ve probably noticed the Messenger functionality has now migrated into its own standalone application. As predicted this ‘smooth’ transition couldn’t be going any worse.

The Messenger app has been around since 2011, however I never really saw the point in having a separate application to message Facebook friends – surely it makes sense for everything to be in the same place?

This month however, the Facebook gods decided it was time for the great emigration of 2014, forcing BILLIONS of users to sign-up to the additional app and emigrate.

As a result the app has shot up to number 1 in the Top Charts on IOS and Android. However, it’s the only app in the shortlist with a one star rating, from an overwhelming 1,858 reviews.

I urge everyone to have a quick read of the reviews, they’re not only hilarious, but Facebook members are sending a pretty clear message: ‘what a load of s**t’.

Some of the review highlights include ‘Absolute garbage’, ‘Disappointing to say the least’, ‘Terrible app that I’m forced to use’, ‘The worst app ever created’, ‘Invasive and creepy’, ‘Enough is enough’.

It’s pretty damning for Facebook that I’m not making any of these up. The switch has peeved users, many of whom thought Facebook’s native messaging service was just fine.

So why two apps you ask?

Like so many Facebook users, I was also left asking what’s the point of separating the apps?

Facebook makes its intentions pretty clear on its website. The social media giant is doing what it does best – staying ahead of the curve and predicting what users will want before they even know themselves.

Let’s face it, Facebook knows exactly what it’s doing. Remember the uproar when it introduced the Newsfeed? I remember thinking, 'why would anyone want to be bombarded with all their friends’ information like this? I’m more than content with visiting their pages like a moron'. Now I don’t know how anyone used Facebook without it, when was the last time you visited a friend’s actual page?

I used to see Messenger as a social email service, where I could organise group conversations. But just looking at the language Facebook uses to inform users of the app shows its intention to dominate the instant messaging domain: ‘Free texting from Facebook’, ‘Instantly reach the people you care about’, ‘Send photos and videos in the moment’, ‘Free calls, even to friends across the world’.

Even when I downloaded the app, it asked if I wanted to add all my contact numbers for its SMS functionality, to which I declined – Facebook has far too much of my information as it is.

Is your privacy at stake?

A little further digging into Facebook Messenger online and you’ll soon be fearing for your life due to the insidiousness of its terms and conditions.

The amount of data Facebook could potentially get its hands on is alarming, and is likely to be the main reason for the split. The company’s current instant messaging service, WhatsApp, requires minimal information upon sign-up, and I question why Facebook wishes to move Messenger in this direction.

I’m willing to bet very few people who downloaded the app read the Terms of Service before accepting them. However, before you fall into a fear frenzy, Facebook has explained why they request so much access to your data in their Help Centre.

Titled ‘Why is the Messenger app requesting permission to access features on my Android phone or tablet?’, the article aims to clarify why Messenger asks for so many permissions., many of which are already being used by the Facebook app:

  • Take pictures and videos: This permission allows you to take photos and videos within the Messenger app to easily send to your friends and other contacts
  • Record audio: So you can send voice messages, make free voice calls, and send videos within Messenger
  • Directly call phone numbers: Allows you to call a Messenger contact by tapping on the person's phone number, found in a menu within your message thread with the person
  • Receive text messages (SMS): If you add a phone number to your Messenger account, this allows you to confirm your phone number by finding the confirmation code that Facebook sends via text message
  • Read your contacts: So you can add your phone contacts as Messenger contacts if you choose to do so

The majority of responses I have read online aim to strike fear in the average Facebook user, who will likely believe every form of extremity and paranoia they read. In all honesty, do you really think that someone at Facebook is calling people from your contacts list on your behalf? Or tuning in with their camera access to watch you take a selfie?

As expected, concerns about Messenger are overblown and based on misinformation. For starters it is the operating system that sets the permission requests based on the apps potential functionality. The user is entitled to restrict its potential access of course, by denying permission, however you’ll be limiting its capabilities as a result. What’s more, and what is likely more scary, is that the Facebook app currently has access to the same amount of data.

One example is the automatic listening tool. Yes, Facebook is listening to everything you are doing when writing an update. The feature acts like Shazam, as it picks up the music or TV show you might be listening to or watching.

Is it time to panic?

As much as I don’t like the Messenger app, it looks as though we’re going to have to give in to Facebook’s demand if we wish to continue communicating with friends in this way.

Bloggers across the internet are calling this the final straw, but is it really? I’m not going to stop using Facebook because of this, and I’m sure the billion people who downloaded the app will continue to do so.

What’s clear is that people don’t like to be forced into something new. There is no opt-in, but as I said earlier, I believe Facebook knows exactly what it’s doing.

It is also not evil. The poor user experience of nudging and slashing, notification after notification, is understandably annoying for many users, but it’s not out-and-out evil. Don’t buy into the myth that this is a new expansion of Facebook’s information grabbing - they’ve been gobbling up your private information the whole time.

There are some easy things you can do to avoid the forced switch of course. You could simply quit Facebook. Or try texting and emailing your friends, and for the really adventurous, I recommend picking up the phone and giving them a call.

Tim Smith
Senior social strategist
The White Agency

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