Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Facebook's Messenger Woes

Recently the internet has been abuzz with concern over Facebook's new Messenger app for smartphones. Without going into too much boring detail, the problem is that the app wants total access to all your information and control over all the devices on your phone. In essence, Facebook Messenger can record video and audio whenever it wants and transmit it without your permission. Some are shouting that this is an unparalleled abuse of privacy while cooler heads are pointing out that the list of required permissions is no different then those of Google Search.

I have long argued that privacy is a myth. Anyone who uses social media and still expects privacy is living in a fool's paradise. As Digg user blue_beetle taught us "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." As such expectations of privacy are foolish, especially from companies like Facebook or Google.


Google uses my internet history to better tailor my search results. Google knows when I am searching for the term "walled garden" that I am not interested in gardening tools, seeds or soil. It knows this because of my past search history which is a good predictor of future subject areas of interest. Google also uses this information to connect me with advertisers that offer products which are more suited to my taste and interest. Supposedly Facebook does all this too, but why do people lose their minds with Facebook's app permissions and ignore them with Google?

Because Google never launched a social experiment without consent. In 2012, Facebook conducted an experiment on 700,000 users to attempt to manipulate their emotional state. This has sparked outrage and lawsuits against Facebook for tampering with the mental well being of hundreds of thousands of people (including minors!) without following standard scientific protocols. They simply did it because they could.

This created a major trust gap for Facebook. It is this trust gap that is at the heart of the Facebook Messenger furor. People are simply not willing to extend permission to a company that so blatantly violated their trust. That is the key point which is missing in the discussion I see online. People just don't trust Facebook to act properly and that's why they don't want the Messenger app on their phones.

What do you think?
 







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