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“Caveat Emptor”- Facebook reading private text messages?! February 27, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in InfoSec & Privacy, Laws and Leglslation.
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UPDATE: According to Facebook, this story was incorrect.  To ensure the accuracy of my own reporting, here is their statement taken from MSNBC: “The Sunday Times has done some creative conspiracy theorizing but the suggestion that we’re secretly reading people’s texts is ridiculous. Instead, the permission is clearly disclosed on the app page in the Android marketplace and is in anticipation of new features that enable users to integrate Facebook features with their texts. However, other than some very limited testing, we haven’t launched anything so we’re not using the permission. If we do, it will be obvious to users what’s happening. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.”

In yet another example of a corporate giant skirting (if not explicitly violating) privacy principles and laws, it was reported by the (London) Sunday Times that Facebook was (is?) spying on users’ text messages from their smartphones.  According to Foxnews: “Facebook admitted reading text messages belonging to smartphone users who downloaded the social-networking app and said that it was accessing the data as part of a trial to launch its own messaging service,”  In defense of Facebook (did I just write that?) it claims that the service has not yet been launched.  As stated:“The permission is clearly disclosed on the app page in the Android marketplace and is in anticipation of new features that enable users to integrate Facebook features with their texts,”a spokesman for Facebook said in a statement. “However, other than some very limited testing, we haven’t launched anything yet so we’re not using the permission. 

This certainly seems like the old “it was in the privacy policy fine print” that seems to be standard for large companies.  There are several issues with reading private texts.  First, they have access to your mobile number which (at least in the US) is not available in the public domain and may be considered (alone with email in certain instances) private information.  Secondly, private texts contain…well…private information.  What if someone decides to inform their spouse that they are sick or pregnant or divorcing?  The concerns around this data are significant.    As with all social media services, understand what you are getting and be careful not to divulge too much.  If you allow Facebook to access your texts, understand the implications.

“Caveat Emptor”

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