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Why Everyone is Freaking Out About Facebook Messenger

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In 2014, using Facebook is about as exciting as your flossing routine: idle, half-assed, and embedded in life’s daily humdrum. On your increasingly predictable feed, even that one insane girl you went to second grade with has ceased to be entertaining. Where there were once titillating overshares, there are now carefully curated vacation posts and baby pictures. At this point, Facebook is only useful as a way to stay within arm’s reach of those marginal cohorts you don’t care to text or email. Should you ever urgently need to contact that random college acquaintance you haven’t spoken with since 2009, Facebook Messenger – Facebook’s built-in chat service – will always be there for you.

Maybe that explains why this summer, people flipped out when Facebook announced it would migrate the service, forcing users to download a separate standalone app to be able to read and respond to messages on the go. Suddenly, when trying to access messages on a phone or tablet, users were met with this message:

More importantly, is this a gopher? Hamster? Gerbil?

This gerbil wants you to get your shit together already

Certainly downloading an extra app is an inconvenience, if small. You have to get on wifi, tap a few screens, wait a bit, keep tapping…God. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

But the real source of paranoia was the Facebook Messenger’s permissions, which require access to everything from your camera and microphone to your contacts and browsing history. In a 2013 Huffington Post article, Sam Fiorella described the data access as “insidious” and “alarming”. And when Facebook announced the migration this summer, Fiorella’s provocative, clicky take managed to resurface, ultimately helping to drive a conspiracy theory that Facebook Messenger is a creepy spy who reads your emails, watches you sleep at night and will probably leak your nudes to 4chan, eventually.

Is this paranoia around permissions legit? Most likely not. As outlined in a nice Snopes entry and a few follow-up articles, the permissions required to use Facebook Messenger are completely standard for a messaging app. If you have a smartphone and use apps and communicate with people on it, you’ve already relinquished vast amounts of data in return for the convenience. Sorry to break this news to you on BrokeAssStuart.com.

Still, the rumor stubbornly refuses to die: Last week, a security researcher tweeted out that Facebook Messenger’s iOS8 version contains “spyware type code”, whatever that means. (You take this one, Infowars!)

The freakout over Facebook Messenger is less a reflection of the app itself than of how people feel about Facebook, which – over many years of crappy products (Facebook Poke, anyone?) and annoying privacy tweaks – has rightly earned a reputation as shady and dishonest. But whether or not Facebook Messenger is actually the reanimated corpse of J. Edgar Hoover is beside the point. Why should you think twice before installing the app? Because if you’re talking to someone on Facebook chat, chances are it can wait until you get home. So spare yourself the tapping and enjoy the rest of your day.

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Annie Gaus - Grifter

Annie Gaus - Grifter

Annie grew up in San Francisco and now writes about technology among many other less savory pursuits

1 Comment

  1. September 22, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I feel very uncomfortable with my phone ever since I’ve had the messenger installed. I feel like I’m being watched, so I put on little puppet shows for whoever is on the other end.