The Facebook Messenger Privacy Debate: To Share Or Not To Share Is The Question

Posted on August 15, 2014 in Sci-Tech

By Kanika Katyal:

“Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.”

— Pete Cashmore, CEO, Mashable

The space in my Smartphone is already shrinking, and Facebook, after having been vexing me for some time to install the new Messenger app, now leaves me with no option but install the app if I want to continue to use the feature. So, it is either Candy Crush Saga, or my second Photo editing app that will be sacrificed on the altar to make way for Facebook’s second app.

facebook manipulated newsfeed

Ever since Facebook announced the Messenger app split back in April – there has been growing privacy concerns. But at the same time, opinions are divided on the issue.

I belong to the Old School of Criticism and wonder what this civilisation is leading towards. It is a truth universally acknowledged that every time you search online for the best restaurant deal or share news with your Facebook friends, your “audience” is bigger than you know. That’s because your every online move leaves “cyber footprints” that are rapidly becoming fodder for research without you ever realizing it. Is it really OK that privacy concerns are no longer an alien issue?

Remember how Facebook admitted in June that it had performed psychological experiments on users by manipulating their timelines, which tried to alter users’ moods based on what they read? It is no coincidence that maximum number of my friends had deactivated their accounts during that period. Reason? Facebook was becoming depressing.

Companies are merging with another, new plug-ins are installed. Single access sign-on is becoming a growing trend whereby users can log in once and then use multiple websites without the need to sign in again. The websites share information and make it easier for a single social media website to show your actions and activities on other websites. I put my trust in the location based system on Facebook, the next thing I know, my spam folder is bombarded with cab discounts and property ads from Delhi-NCR.

Amidst this, a months old post from Huffington Post is currently doing the round that warns users of the Facebook Messenger android app’s “insidious” terms of service. The most irksome speck for the users is that in return for access to the free Messenger app, they will be required to grant Facebook the permission to access an alarming amount of their personal data and direct control over their mobile devices, including the ability of the app to “read contacts”, “directly call phone numbers”, “take pictures and videos” – all without the user’s permission.

There is also the Radical School that challenges my opinion with 4 simple words – “What’s New About That?”

The 21st Century, especially the last decade, has seen an explosion of human interaction and we are yielding out of our own free will. My phone number? Call me. Also, these are my friends; let me tag them for you. This is my college. This is the road I always take, and so on.

Isn’t a “willing suspension of disbelief” our first step when creating a profile on social media? Today, we happily share our date and place of birth, our favourite colour, name of our pet, movie review, and a myriad of other slivers of information with people no matter how brief the association has been. Were people who lived in the pre-Facebook era recluses?

While the seemingly nasty terms have sparked outraged over confidentiality concerns, Facebook isn’t taking the blame. Facebook recently responded with a blog post explaining why it needs certain permissions. It said: ‘Almost all apps need certain permissions to run on Android, and we use these permissions to run features in the app. Keep in mind that Android controls the way the permissions are named, and the way they’re named doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them.”

Clearing many myths surrounding the heated debate, the proponents assert that the app is certainly not designed as sinisterly as it is portrayed to be. So, is there a way to work around the change without installing the app? Yes, it is still possible to communicate with your friends through the main app, by accessing through your desktop. The intention is not to affect privacy but to make it faster, more convenient, consistent and high-quality experience for users.

Thus, I see privacy today, in this electronic age, as equivalent to the predestination versus free will debate. “To share or not to share, is the question”. I see privacy not as something that I could be entitled to, but as a pre-requisite. But then again, if you want privacy, be a private person?